When it comes to piano literature, Russian pianist Oleg Marshev has two big passions: the music of his compatriots and the lesser-known repertoire. He tells Jeremy Nicholas why going boldly where few have gone before can be so rewarding.
INTERNATIONAL PIANO November December 2007
Tchaikovsky Piano Concertos — nos.1 in in B flat minor op.23, 2 in G major op.44 (original version) & 3 in E flat major op.75, Andante and Finale op.79 (orch.Taneyev). Concert Fantasia in G major op.56. Allegro in C minor op.posth. Oleg Marshev pf Aalborg Symphony Orchestra / Owain Arwel Hughes Danacord DACOCD 586-587
Recorded in 2001-2, this Tchaikovsky cycle has been a long time coming. Finely produced and engineered, enjoying committed support from the Aalborg band and strong direction under Hughes, here are performances of style and authority, knocking just about every other into a cocked hat. What’s more there’s no set currently more complete: the early C minor Allegro for piano and strings might not be anything to write home about but it’s still useful to have on the shelf. Both the Zhukov (1971) and Hoteev (1997) versions are deleted.
Marshev isn’t after shock effects or histrionics, and speed records aren’t his thing. For sure there are starrier, more fashionably in-demand B fiat minors around, but few of such honesty, emotional commitment or responsive interplay, Equal to every technical challenge, he gives us the notes without frills, the adrenalin rising progressively across 36 minutes to climax in the double-octaves and big tune at the end. Salvaged from an aborted Symphony in E flat (1892-3), the single-movement Third Concerto plus Taneyev’s (unfairly maligned) Andante and finale completion are more splendid than I’ve heard in a long while. The poetry and orchestral solos of the Andante are winged with genuine nostalgia. With Barry Douglas’s bronzed account of the Second Concerto no longer available, Marshev more or less has the field to himself. True, there are things in other performances I wouldn’t want to be without (Gilels’s iron glory, Siloti cuts notwithstanding; Donohoe’s slow movement with Kennedy and Isserlis — what a coup that was). But Marshev has enough mood, personality and Slavonic intensity to stamp his own signature on the work, leaving the blander likes of Pletnev, Scherbakov or Glemser lower down the ladder. As in the Third, he demonstrates a tight structural grasp, favouring integration before indulgence. The contrasts of the first movement are keenly judged, the declamation and rhetoric of the principal cadenza expanding into a crowning arch of super-pianism. And the rhythmic èlan and cavalry carter of the folk-finale is not to be missed, in the (these days less familiar) 1884 Concert Fantasia, Marshev characteristically seeks ways to cohere a not always comfortable design, but without ever compromising the virtuosity or wilder dreams of the music. The cadenza (Part 1) is splendid.
The Early Brahms
Piano Sonata No. 1, Op.1. Variations on a Theme by Schumann, Op. 9. Four Ballades, Op. 10
Oleg Marshev (pf)
Danacord DACOCD 643
Oleg Marshev has tackled a very wide range of Romantic repertoire on disc, including a series of Danish Romantic piano concertos and the piano music of Emil von Sauer. Here he turns to music that is more mainstream, though with the exception of the Ballades these works are not as frequently heard as they might be. Brahms’s C major Sonata is in fact his second work in the genre (the first was the F sharp minor op.2). Like Mendelssohn’s op.106, the shadow of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” looms large in the opening gestures, but already Brahms’s individual voice makes itself heard, particularly in the slow movement variations.
The work demands a strong and reliable technique, and Marshev is fully equal to the task. He drives tie scherzo and finale along at pace and with unstinting belief in the score. In the slower moments he finds poetry without being sentimental, and has a good feeling for pace and structure.
The Variations on a Theme of Schumann are primarily tragic, reflecting Schumann’s institutionalisation during their composition. Marshev gives a very fine performance indeed, with the closing adagio particularly timeless and poised.
It is the Ballades that offer the greatest interpretative challenge here. Marshev does not quite eclipse memories of Gilels in “Edward”, but he is distinctive and sensitive throughout. Tempos are well-chosen and not too fast, and in the quieter music he allows Brahms to speak with eloquence and a gently unfolding narrative. The scherzo-like Third Ballade is not pushed too hard, so that its central section appears to unfold naturally, and the fourth points the way towards Faure’s harmony and textures.
These are extremely good performances, naturally recorded and well worth investigating.
Piano Concerto no.1 in C minor, Op.35.
Piano Concerto no. 2 in F, Op.102. 24 Preludes, Op. 34
Oleg Marshev (piano)
Helsingborg SO/ Hannu Lintu
Danacord DACOCD 601
Who would have thought it? I have heard quite a few of Oleg Marshev’s Danacord recordings, and liked many of them a good deal; but I was fairly disappointed with his recent Rachmaninoff concertos cycle. Now, out of the blue, he comes up with a Shostakovich disc as impressive as any I have encountered. In the concertos I fancy he has at last displaced my long-standing loyalty to Alexeev and the composer himself, and I certainly haven’t come across an account of the Preludes that approaches his for idiomatic insight.
It takes a very special artist to get everything out the two concertos, so varied and mercurial are their moods. The soloist has to switch from melancholy to mania in an instant, to hide deep feelings behind a poker-faced facade and to play the fool while aching inside. All this Marshev does, or suggests, with extraordinary aplomb. His fast movements are racey and cartoonish, as they should be, without ever sacrificing musical poise, and his slow movements are given the depth and melancholy I have always craved but hardly ever (maybe I mean never) heard.
Aus Lichten Tagen
3 Concert Etudes
Oleg Marshev (piano)
Russian pianist Oleg Marshev is unstinting in his devotion on the works of the German born pianist Emil von Sauer (1862 – 1942). So far, Danacord has issued five volumes in its series (N/D 2001); another volume waits in the wings to introduce us to the composer’s Second Piano Concerto. For those unfamiliar with the compositions of this Golden Age musician, suffice it to say that they are highly virtuosic, not unlike the works of Anton Rubinstein (he studied with brother Nicholas) and vary in quality, in depth, and in interest.
The Suite Moderne, dedicated to fellow virtuoso Giovanni Sgambati, is one of his best pieces. Its five movements begin with a finger – breaking “Prelude passione”, continues with a powerful “Air Lugubre” that lasts almost 10 minutes, followed by two lighter but creative pieces called “Scherzo grotesque” and “Gavotte”, and concluding with an interesting set of variations. Maria Eugenia Tapia, who has also recorded this suite (M/A 2001) must now defer to Marshev’s cleaner execution and more colorful playing.
The five miniatures constituting Aus Lichten Tagen (First Signs of Spring) make for pleasant listening; the longest – “At the Cradle” – is slightly over three minutes. There is a Schumannesque quality to some of the writing, along with recollections of pieces by MacDowell. Many may be beguiled as I have by the skill of the writing, the creative harmonic turns, and the charm of the music.
The Concert Etudes (different from the ones recorded previously) are typical of the encore pieces Sauer liked to perform at concerts. They are effective in their own way but do not venture far beyond the allure of the drawing room. This is certainly not the case of the Galop de Concert, which inhabits the same realm as Liszt’s first Mephisto Waltz. It is a thrilling, bravura composition that awes a great deal to his teacher. Although his studies with Liszt were confined to just two summers, Sauer gave little credit to the master, who he claims was too old to teach him much.
Sauer enthusiasts will want to own his terrific first piano concerto in its splendid incarnation as part of Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series (J/F 1996). Exploration of the other volumes in this series is recommended if you find the music appealing. Do start with this one.
INTERNATIONAL PIANO QUATERLY
Etudes de concert Nos. 21-30. Boîte à Musique. Couplet sans Paroles. Les Délices de Vienne. Echo de Vienne. Le Retour. Scherzo Valse.
OLEG MARSHEV — pf / Danacord DACOCD 488 / 72′ / DDD
Hard on the heels of Vol.1 (DACOCD 487 W/99) comes the second disc of Marshev’s enterprising survey of the piano music of Emil von Sauer, containing the remaining Etudes de concert and a selection of Waltzes for good measure. More so than in the first volume, the studies on this disc tend towards a finger-crunching toccata style (whether Mendelssohnian or Ravelian in character) rather than Chopinesque poetry, although there are notable exceptions (No. 26, “Preghiera”, for example, or the extended No. 28, “Waldandacht”, for the left hand alone). The nostalgic Viennese charm of the earlier waltzes offers a happy and delicious contrast, evoking a bygone era much as Godowsky and Ignaz Friedman were later to do.
The apparent ease with which Oleg Marshev encompasses such a range of demanding piano writing is impressive, especially when, as here, there is no significant performance tradition to speak of and therefore limited inherited parameters of interpretation. True, these works don’t require deep insights or a special spiritual affinity, they do, however, require tremendous clarity and dexterity and an insouciant grace and charm, and in this Marshev is largely successful. He tackles works such as the “Etude chromatique” (No. 21) shimmers with menacing agitation and the “Staccato Etude” (No. 29) reveals wrists of steel.