His thrilling recordings of Prokofiev and Rachmaninov (among others) leave the critics grasping for new superlatives, but Russian pianist Oleg Marshev resists the virtuoso label. “An artist should serve the music,” he tells Harriet Smith
Who needs Ludwig and Wolfgang over-played concertos when there are so many brilliant but unknown concertos out there? Marius Dawn applauds Oleg Marshev and other explorers of neglected repertoire.
OLEG MARSHEV IN RECITAL
Oleg Marshev has recorded all of Tchaikovsky’s works for piano and orchestra, and is one of the few pianists who has inhis discography more works for piano and orchestra than solo recitals. Critics around the world praise his releases, however, this new recording, made straight after a successful New Zealand concert tour, may be his best. Never has the Liszt Funerailles sounded so devastatingly tragic, the Spanish Rhapsody so super virtuosic and the Chopin so stylish and brilliant. The real revelation comes with the last Scriabin pieces which are quite simply ravishing in their beauty and where one really can say that the piano sings. Round up many of the younger pianists mentioned earlier in this review, and they will sound grey by comparison. If ever you wake up one night and question what piano playing is all about, the answer lies right here.
It says a lot for a record company like Danacord that it is prepared to stick with its artists enough to entrust them with the repertoire that’s as popular as the Prokofiev piano concertos. With a pianist like Oleg Marshev – who has the complete Rachmaninov and Shostakovich concertos, complete Prokofiev solo piano music, von Sauer sonatas and studies, and much more under his belt for the Danish label – there was no doubt that the Marshev Prokofiev concerto cycle was going to be something to look forward to. But is it individual enough to stand out against the crowd?
The short answer is: yes. First of all, Marshev’s playing is spectacularly good: his passagework is briliantly sure-footed and his tone full-bodied. It’s the tone, in fact, that points the way towards the individuality of this cycle. Most pianists approach the Prokofiev concertos as if they were the first of the modern age, all rattling toccatas and mechanical energy. Marshev, a romantic pianist par excellence, is not a cavalier with the past. His Prokofiev is a less-aggressive creature than usual; in Marshev’s hands these concertos appear an evolution to be from Romantic period rather than a revolt against it. He is especially keen to let Prokofiev’s gentler passages sing, finding lyricism where other pianists tend to be brittle. To be sure, the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra isn’t quite the Berlin Phil, but under Niklas Willèn they play with considerable flair, sympathetically following Marshev’s understanding of the music. I would have preferred a warmer string sound, and less of an edge to Marshev’s piano tone in the louder passages. But these are minor caveats: there’s nothing here that will blunt your enjoyment of the music. The booklet contains a fine extended essay by the Prokofiev biographer Daniel Jaffй. Outstanding!
Few British music lovers have heard the young Russian pianist Oleg Marshev live; he seldom appears in the UK, but having listened to his complete recording of the Rachmaninov works for piano and orchestra, I’m hoping that British agents will be rushing out to sign him! Right from the start – from the first movement of the first concerto – Marshev’s technical polish, dramatic sense of timing and dynamic involvement with the music hit me in the face.
This is the sixth CD and the best yet in Oleg Marshev’s ear-opening exploration of the music of the Hamburg-born virtuoso Emil von Sauer (1862 – 1942). Sauer’s Second Piano Concerto, here receiving its first recording, turns out to be a major work, a close cousin to the Rachmaninov and Medtner concertos. You know from the start it is going to be something important: a haunting oboe melody creates a gorgeous autumnal atmosphere, into which the piano gently creeps, offering reserved commentary on the twirling woodwind lines until, two minutes in, it throws caution aside in a series of powerful chords, jolting the orchestra into a development section that shows Sauer to be a fine judge of when to accumulate and release tension. He was also a melodist of a high order, and he can charm, too – the Vivacissimo second movement has a lightness and grace.
It’s not news that Marshev is a first – rank pianist: his accounts of the Rachmaninov and Shostakovich concertos are among the best in the catalogue, but this disc is a real winner – don’t deny yourself this wonderful CD!