Music by Schubert, Chopin, Liszt and Stravinsky
Alexander Melnikov p
Harmonia Mundi HMM902299
Alexander Melnikov and his set of ‘period’ instruments prove the most adept of time travellers
“With the passage of time we know less and less about the lives of our ancestors; and yet we are eager to know how their food tasted, their houses smelled, or indeed their music sounded.” Alexander Melnikov
Here’s a great idea; matching four monuments of the repertoire with four instruments of the period – virtuoso pieces that stretched the pianos of the day
to the extremes of their expressive possibilities.
Previous performances of Schubert’s Wanderer-Fantasie on fortepianos have usually resulted in 20 minutes of clatter in C Major, but not so here; Melnikov’s lovely Graff from the late 1820s has a richer sound but still retains the nutty bass and tangy treble of the earlier models. Chopin’s Op. 10 Études played on restorer Edwin Beunk’s 1837 Érard carries a whiff of scented salon elegance – the glittering treble almost harp-like at times of breathtaking beauty – but sparks fly aplenty.
Chopin dedicated the set to Liszt and wrote to a friend, “I should like to rob him of the way he plays my studies” – and Melnikov doesn’t hold back. Nor does he for Réminiscences de Don Juan, Liszt’s over-the-top reworking of tunes from Mozart’s opera, its diablerie dialled up to 11 in a barn-storming performance, pushing Melnikov’s 1875 Bösendorfer to the limit.
As for the final work, Stravinsky’s Trois Mouvements de Pétrouchka played on a modern Steinway, I may run out of superlatives. Think of Pollini’s drive and clarity with the temperature raised a few notches in terms of dramatic flair –
it sweeps all before it and lifts the roof. Warwick Arnold