Please don’t eat the pianist…

…he really was doing his best. Enter Oleg Marshev, an elegant 50-ish Russian pianist (born in Baku, lives in Italy) who’s recorded extensively and attracted enviably classy responses, yet has enjoyed as yet scant currency in London’s concert halls. After many a long year, he finally made his debut with a London orchestra, the LPO, last night.

But the concert was also the LPO debut of that man-of-the-moment, Royal Liverpool Phil miracle-worker Vasily Petrenko. Marshev’s account of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto — which can be a rather thankless piece if you are a musical, thoughtful pianist not actually attempting to win a competition — was roundly submerged by a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.11 that by the end apparently had the audience on its feet and the performers in a state of near collapse. (I didn’t stay for it, having o’d’ed on Dmitrian gloom and doom earlier this year — there’s only so much one can take.)

Marshev played the Prokofiev like chamber music: aware, sensitive, sparkling in sound yet remaining within the best of taste. Refinement is a rarity in Prokofiev performance these days — have we come to expect the lack of subtlety and ear-splitting percussiveness than so many virtuosi like to propound? Marshev’s was a fresh take, an unexpected yet deeply rewarding approach. And his encore, Liszt’s 10th Transcendental Study, was full of sweep, elegance and idiomatic rhetoric; it gave him a chance to show what he could really do without being eaten alive.

I only hope others remembered it too after the onslaught in the second half. Marshev’s one shortcoming, I reckon, is that he has rather a self-effacing stage presence. Beside blond bombshell Petrenko, who simply radiates energy, he ended up in the shadows. But I hope that now he’s had the chance to make his existence known to us here, this “pianists’ pianist” will soon have other chances to shine.

Here he is in part of a weird rarity that only a “pianists’ pianist” would be likely to tackle…

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