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“Weissenberg has a remarkable talent, as the three Petrushka pieces prove, but he has often misused it, with harsh results. This sampling of his repertoire and his thoughts on it is worth seeing.”
Friday 12 December 2008
“This beautiful, essential disc gathers together footage of the Bulgarianborn, French pianist Alexis Weissenberg from the mid-to- late 1960s, a period that marked his return to the concert platform after nearly a
decade's absence. Pride of place goes to his 1965 film of Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrushka, directed by Ingmar Bergman's assistant, Åke Falck. It's a technical tour de force that turns Weissenberg into a
glamorous visionary, fetishises his hands and transforms his piano into a modernist abstraction of planes, lines and lethal-looking hammers. More conventionally filmed, but equally mesmerising, is a 1969 French TV
performance of Brahms' Second Piano Concerto, with the ORTF Orchestra conducted by an enraptured-looking Georges Prêtre. Weissenberg's detractors have often taken him to task for his supposed heavy-handedness. The weight of his
playing, however, was balanced by great interpretative directness and intensity, and this performance of the Brahms is among the most searching and profound that I know. A number of shorter TV appearances give us fine examples of his astringent Chopin, his deeply sexy Scriabin and
his controversial, probing Bach.”
“If you invested in Marc-André Hamelin's recent CD 'In a State of Jazz' (see page 1328) you will have heard the eponymous Sonata and five Charles Trenet song transcriptions by Alexis Weissenberg. Here is Weissenberg himself seen first in the innovative black–and–white film of Three Movements from Petrushka directed by Åke Falck in 1965 which revived the pianist's flagging career. The print is remarkably crisp and vivid even if, as on the original film, the sound of this high–octane performance is not always in sync. The DVD's bonus features a short interview with the pianist talking about the work. The rest of the programme has performances that reveal what an uneven player Weissenberg was. His impassive face and economic gestures seem to reflect his disengagement with some of the music (try the Bach–Hess Jesu, Joy of Man'sDesiring and the slow movement – the only part of the work here – of Chopin's B minor Sonata). On the other hand there's a riveting Prokofiev Third Sonata (complete) and Scriabin Nocturne for the left hand alone. The longest work from the 150 minutes of the disc is Brahms's Second Piano Concerto, a lightweight reading conducted by the amiable Georges Prêtre in 1969. From the same label comes a 1989 recital from Sviatoslav Richter given in London's Barbican Centre by the light of a 40–watt bulb. Now expressing any criticism of the great man will invite a heap of invective, but when Richter comes on stage conveying the distinct impression that he would rather be anywhere else, it does appear rather graceless. What with that, the anglepoise and reading from the score you wonder if he is in the mood to play Mozart at all. Thank heavens he is. One can put up with any amount of eccentricity to hear K282, K545 (Sonata facile) and K310 played like this. Close your eyes – that's the best way of enjoying this, especially as the editing is a real distraction. The three (black–and–white) bonus tracks from 20 years earlier were broadcast in October 1969. Looking once more as though his cat's just been run over, Richter rampages through Rachmaninov's Etude–Tableau Op 9 No 3 and Chopin's Etudes Op 10 No 4 (ludicriously fast) and No 12. Then there is the endearing figure of Tatyana Nikolaieva in her signature work, the 24 Preludes and Fugues of Shostakovich. Filmed in December 1992 just 11 months before her death at the age of 69, the setting for the 150 minutes of the cycle appears to be a capacious Victorian drawing room, the instrument illuminated by an old–fashioned standard lamp (what is it about Russians and electricity?). Talking of which, Nikolaieva, looking every inch the archetypal babushka and clad in clothes that might have been worn by Clara Schumann, lights up these works from within. Here are old and intimate friends. It's doubtful whether we'll hear them better played – unsuprisingly, as she was the composer's inspiration for the cycle (she reveals as much in the brief interview that forms the DVD's bonus). Already, this is a valuable historical document.”
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