Pianist Alexander Melnikov captivated the audience of the Folly Theater with his boisterous and artistic playing of freewheeling fantasies and strict fugues.
The Friends of Chamber Music presented pianist Alexander Melnikov who played a demanding program including Schubert’s “Der Wanderer” Fantasie, Brahms’s Op. 116 Fantasien, and Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues Nos. 1–12. Melnikov’s artistic abilities in these pieces were unfathomable. The sounds that he created at the piano were unimaginable, his dynamics ranged from the tiniest pianissimos to roaring fortissimos. His interpretations of these three works were perhaps not conventional, but his ideas and the effects he produced were stimulating.
“Der Wanderer” Fantasie, the first piece on the program, was brought to life by Melnikov; he took relatively fast tempos, which worked for him. The tremolo-type section in the beginning was riveting as he moved through in sweeping gestures. He used a lot of pedal, which gave a distinct orchestral sound to his playing. He dramatically sunk into the darkness of the adagio, which turns to C-sharp minor. The Scherzo section in A-flat major was buoyant and lively. Before the fugue of the last movement, Melnikov achieved a monstrous effect with a huge sound. He played the fugue with an energetic tempo. The arpeggios in the right hand were dizzyingly fast but all the notes could still be heard as he zoomed through to a thrilling ending.
Continuing the ongoing theme of late works for this Friends season, the next piece was Brahms’s 7 Fantasien, Op. 116, which is part of the last set of works he wrote for the piano. Brahms’s piano music is notoriously known for having thick textures and this set undoubtedly has this attribute. Melnikov’s playing of this set was truly astonishing how he tapped into each level of Brahms’s music and gave each piece its own specific character. His tempo for the first D Minor Capriccio was a true presto while also holding onto the excruciating intensity of the music. The first Intermezzo in A Minor changed to a more introverted mood, Melnikov managed at one section to barely make a sound, one of his quietest moments in the recital. The G Minor Capriccio was passionate and strong while the E Major Intermezzo turned into another intimate moment. The E Minor Fantasy kept the energy of the previous one and the most impressive part of this piece was the pacing of the dynamics from soft to loud. The last D Minor Capriccio showed off Melnikov’s true artistry at the piano with his capabilities of intense sound and passionate expressiveness.
The program ended with the first twelve Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich. Playing a set of Preludes and Fugues by any composer is a vast undertaking. The artistry in playing fugues comes from a specific attention to the fugal motive until the end. Shostakovich adds extra elements along with the fugal statements, which makes hearing each fugal statement even more difficult. Melnikov bridged all of these components and gave each fugal statement special attention while also coming up with a level of effect for each prelude and fugue. He took a moment before each prelude to think of the execution he desired. There was no detail missed throughout all of the preludes and fugues he played. Overall, Melnikov commanded his sound with vigilance, which made for an exciting and invigorating concert.