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Review: Dmitry Masleev Dazzles in His New York Recital Debut at Carnegie Hall

By Joshua Rosenblum, Contributing Writer, February 1, 2017

The twenty-eight-year-old Siberian-born pianist Dmitry Masleev achieved worldwide fame in 2015 when he won the Gold Medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. He has concertized extensively since then, and January 30 at Carnegie Hall marked his New York recital debut. It was a thoroughly memorable event. Masleev began his fiercely demanding program with four Scarlatti sonatas, easing into the first one (Sonata in B minor, K. 27) with a delicacy of touch that made the opening figure seem to fade in from nowhere. He drew unexpected profundity from the piece’s meltingly beautiful descending sequences, with a tone that managed to be crisp and plush at the same time. He launched into the second one (Sonata in F minor, K. 466) almost without pause, as if he couldn’t wait to get to it. Masleev is clearly passionate about these pieces, but he doesn’t over-romanticize them; he just plays them flawlessly and with unusual soulfulness. The closing piece of the set, Sonata in D minor, K. 141, features dazzling torrents of repeated notes, which Masleev rendered immaculately without sacrificing his generally sumptuous approach.

Beethoven’s Sonata No. 26 in Eb, subtitled “Les adieux,” is an homage to the composer’s patron, Archduke Rudolph, who was forced to flee when Napoleon’s army invaded Vienna in 1809. Even with the three opening chords, Masleev revealed that he has superb control, and that he pays a lot of attention to the relative dramatic weight of each sonority. He dispatched the first movement’s rapid-fire chordal sequences with astonishing precision. In the roaring third movement, one began to realize how remarkable it was that the slight, boyish Masleev (he looks about half his age) could play with such amazing physical strength and power.

Prokofiev’s gripping, oceanic Sonata No. 2 in D minor closed the first half. In Masleev’s hands, it was cataclysmic. The beginning of the first movement was vivid and propulsive, with blistering momentum; the transition to the second theme was achingly tender. Masleev seemed fully immersed in the singular, smoldering originality of the work. For long stretches in the outer movements his hands virtually disappeared in blinding rushes of virtuosity. In the soulful third movement, he showed full appreciation of every magnificently craggy chord without losing sight of the big picture. The volcanic last movement, one of those great Prokofiev tarantella-on-steroids showpieces, was galvanizing, with a relentlessly hammering second theme, an opulently melodious middle section, and a fasten-your-seatbelts drive to the end that was a flat-out thrill ride.

The second half began with a set of six Rachmaninoff pieces, including the immortal Prelude in C-sharp Minor, played by many, but seldom with this depth of feeling. In Masleev’s hands, the block chords of the first section were uncommonly delicate and mystical, and the second theme flew like the wind. (It seems ungrateful to point out that this passage was possibly over-pedaled.) The return of the main theme had massive beauty and grandeur. A brief, intriguing, and clearly personal “Fragment” preceded three of the Études-tableaux, outstanding entries in Rachmaninoff’s large catalogue of shorter piano works. Masleev seemed to be channeling Rachmaninoff himself, one of history’s great pianists, who had a similarly other-worldly facility. The B Minor Étude-tableau in particular has that singularly Russian mix of exuberance and melancholy, with a repeated-note motif that provided an unexpected link to the D minor Scarlatti sonata in the first half.

The program concluded with Liszt’s notorious Totentanz. The original version for piano and orchestra is a formidable challenge for pianists; the version Masleev played—the composer’s own reduction of the piece for solo piano—compounds the level of difficulty to a fearsome degree. The piece is a fiendishly imaginative set of variations on the ancient “Dies irae” theme, and each section somehow outdoes the previous one in virtuosity, pushing piano technique to its very limit. Masleev tossed it off with raging bravura, thundering up and down the keyboard with dizzying speed and jaw-dropping octave passagework. One scarcely missed the orchestra. Those judges in Moscow made the right call—this is one of the genuinely great pianists of his generation. During his bows, Masleev seemed thrilled to have made his Carnegie Hall debut, and the elated audience brought him back for four encores.


Dmitry Masleev, piano in  his New York Recital Debut at Carnegie Hall on Monday, January 30, 2017.

D. SCARLATTI Sonata in B Minor, K. 27
D. SCARLATTI Sonata in F Minor, K. 466
D. SCARLATTI Sonata in D Minor, K. 1
D. SCARLATTI Sonata in D Minor, K. 141
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a, “Les adieux”
PROKOFIEV Piano Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 14
RACHMANINOFF Elégie in E-flat Minor, Op. 3, No. 1, from Morceaux de fantaisie
RACHMANINOFF Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 3, No. 2, from Morceaux de fantaisie
RACHMANINOFF Étude-tableau in E-flat Major, Op. 33, No. 4
RACHMANINOFF Étude-tableau in B Minor, Op. 39, No. 4
RACHMANINOFF Étude-tableau in D Major, Op. 39, No. 9
LISZT Totentanz

TCHAIKOVSKY Lullaby in A-flat Major from Eighteen Pieces, Op. 72
TCHAIKOVSKY Dance Scene in C Major from Eighteen Pieces, Op. 72
MENDELSSOHN Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (arr. Rachmaninoff)
BACH Sarabande from Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825


Cover: Dmitry Masleev in recital at Carnegie Hall; photo: Julien Jourdes


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