Virtuoso's Beethoven takes the breath away


The essence of the pianist Dmitri Alexeyev's virtuosity is the lightness of rebound of his fingers and hands from the keys. This natural dexterity makes it possible for the Russian to play repeated notes with unusual ease and to play at great speed without the sacrifice of either clarity or accuracy.

Last night in Meyerhoff Hall those qualities also made it possible for Alexeyev to perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, with the Baltimore Symphony and guest conductor Yuri Temirkanov, with freshness and distinction. His brisk, vigorous approach to the most revered of Beethoven's seven mature concertos had JTC the effect of bringing a much-needed broom to a shrine sinking under the dust of tradition.

Although Alexeyev's performance earned a standing ovation from most of the audience, his was clearly not a reading for everyone. There was no attempt to play up the meditative qualities of the concerto's famous solo piano opening; there was a reading of the slow movement so utterly unsentimental that it might have struck some listeners as prosaic; there was a final movement in which the pianist drove the music at almost breathless tempos; and at almost no time in the performance did the pianist seem to try to beguile the listener's ear with beauty of sound.

But anyone who thought Alexeyev's performance unromantic should listen to some of the recorded performances of keyboard romanticists such as Cortot and Rachmaninov. Pianistic romanticism is more a matter of fire and gunpowder than of sleepy flowers and narcotic poetry. Alexeyev's quirkily explosive, but unaffected, Beethoven permitted the listener to take in the Fourth Concerto with, as it were, a single look. It breathtaking.

The Russian conductor, the chief conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, seems more an inspirational sort than a precisionist. But there is no doubting the results he achieved last night. He opened the concert with a performance of Carl Maria von Weber's overture to "Euryanthe" in which he asked for and received a wonderful rasp from the trombones and unusually warm, light and clear string playing.

And one does not soon expect to hear Shostakovich's First Symphony performed better.The performance captured the high spirits of its 17-year-old composer and paid attention to its emotional intensity -- particularly in a superbly melancholy second movement -- as well as to its cheeky humor.

The program will be repeated tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m.

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