Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev (credit: Liudmila Malofeeva)

Pianist Alexander Malofeev dazzles audience with recital of music by Russian composer-pianists at Spivey Hall

CONCERT REVIEW:
Alexander Malofeev
March 17, 2024
Spivey Hall
Morrow, GA – USA
Alexander Malofeev, piano.
J. S. BACH: Concerto in A Minor, BWV 593 (transcr. Feinberg; after Vivaldi)
SCRIABIN: Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9
SCRIABIN: Two Impromptus, Op. 12
MEDTNER: Sonata Reminiscenza in A Minor, Op. 38, No. 1
RACHMANINOFF: Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 3, No. 2
RACHMANINOFF: Elégie in E-flat Minor, Op. 3, No. 1
RACHMANINOFF: Étude-tableau in E-flat Minor, Op. 33, No. 5
RACHMANINOFF: Étude-tableau in G Minor, Op. 33, No. 7
RACHMANINOFF: Étude-tableau in C-sharp Minor, Op. 33, No. 8
RACHMANINOFF: “Lilacs,” Op. 21, No. 5
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 36

Mark Gresham | 22 MAR 2024

Sunday’s recital at Spivey Hall by the young Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev featured works by Russian composer-pianists whose lives bridged the transition from the 19th into the 20th century: Samuil Feinberg, Alexander Scriabin, Nikolai Medtner, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Malofeev himself is a bona fide 21st-century artist. Born in Moscow on October 21, 2001, the 22-year-old pianist’s performance was insightful and technically accomplished, showing a musical maturity beyond his chronological years without losing youthful spontaneity. Of the available Spivey Hall pianos, Malofeev chose to play the “Clara” Hamburg Steinway.


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He opened the program with a transcription of a transcription: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in A Minor, BWV 593, is an arrangement for solo organ of Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor, Op. 3 No. 8, for two violins and orchestra (RV 522). Russian pianist and composer Samuiel Feinberg (1890-1962) transcribed Bach’s organ concerto for solo piano, published in 1929 in a Rusian-German edition by the Soviet Russian Gosizdat (Госиздат, the State Publishing House) in Moscow and Univeral-Edition A.G. in Vienna and Leipzig.

Hailing from Odessa, Feinberg relocated to Moscow in 1894, where he studied at the Moscow Conservatory; graduating in 1911, Feinberg embarked on a career as a solo pianist while also composing. However, his service in the First World War for Russia intervened. Feinberg relaunched his career as a concert pianist in the early 1920s, but as political pressures mounted in Stalin’s Russia, his concert engagements dwindled, with only two foreign excursions documented in the 1930s: first to Vienna in 1936 and then Brussels in 1938. Consequently, his reputation these days remains primarily confined to Russia.


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Feinberg’s take on the organ concerto is large and romantic, as is the case with a host of piano transcriptions of Bach’s music during his era. (Ferruccio Busoni’s many transcriptions of Bach serve as a prime example.) Malofeev gave the Concerto that grand approach with generous use of the sustain pedal but without losing clarity of voicing in its thickly textured three movements. One can credibly argue that the less pedaling in piano transcriptions of Bach, the better; however, looking at the score itself, while there is no pedaling indicated in it, many passages are impossible to execute without its extensive, if judicious use. If there is any contention about Malofeev’s performance on Sunday, one would find it in disagreements over this. Otherwise, his execution, voicing, and dynamic contrasts were admirable and well thought out.

Malofeev then played several pieces by another Russian composer and virtuoso pianist, Alexander Scriabin (1872 – 1915): Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9, and Two Impromptus, Op. 12. These works were part of Scriabin’s first compositional period (before he emigrated to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1903), in which his music was largely Chopinesque in character, with a hint of influence by Liszt. Both of these pieces were exemplary of that, with the influences of each taking precedence at different points in the music under Malofeev’s hands. In general, the softer passages felt more reminiscent of Chopin, the louder and more extroverted of Liszt, but that is still too broad of a brush to describe how these pieces revealed those influences.


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Composer and virtuoso pianist Nikolai Medtner (1880 – 1951) has been experiencing a slow resurgence in recognition after a quarter-century of relative obscurity following his death. He is increasingly becoming acknowledged as a significant Russian composer of music for the piano. As a younger contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin, Medtner penned a considerable body of work, including 14 piano sonatas.

Among these is the Tenth, the “Sonata-reminiscenza” in A minor, Op. 38, No. 1, with which Malofeev closed the recital’s first half. It is the opening piece in a collection of eight compositions titled Forgotten Melodies, completed in 1920, just before Medtner emigrated from the Soviet Union. (In contrast to Rachmaninoff, Medtner left Russia only after the Revolution.) This single-movement piece stands out as one of Medtner’s most evocative, characterized by its nostalgic and contemplative nature, as suggested by its title. It is currently the most performed of his piano sonatas, and yet, for many of the audience, it was entirely unfamiliar (as was the composer). It seems to be a favorite of the pianist; here is a video of Malofeev performing it, posted to YouTube three years ago:

VIDEO: Alexander Malofeev performs Medtner: “Sonata reminiscenza,” Op. 38 No 1

The second half of the program was all music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, beginning with the famous Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 3, No. 2, from Morceaux de fantaisie, followed by its precedent Elégie in E-flat Minor, Op. 3, No. 1. Three Étude-tableau from Op. 33 followed: No. 5 in E♭ minor, No. 7 in G minor, and No.8 in C♯ minor.

Malofeev then performed Rachmaninoff’s “Lilacs,” Op. 21, No. 5. Once again, we found a performance of it by the pianist on YouTube, in this case as an encore in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory:

VIDEO: Alexander Malofeev plays Rachmaninoff: “Lilacs” op 21, No. 5.

The program closed with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B♭ Minor, Op. 36. Originally completed in 1913, Rachmaninoff revised the Sonata in 1931, making significant alterations to streamline the piece while simplifying some technically demanding passages, reducing the total duration from 25 to 19 minutes. Maloffeev performed this 1931 version.

The audience response to Malofeev’s playing on Sunday was so tremendous he was called back to the stage not once but three times in all for encores. First, the “Minuet” from Handel’s Suite in B♭ Major, HWV 434. The second was the “Andante Maestoso” from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker (Act II: No. 14a, Pas de deux) in a 1978 transcription by Russian composer-pianist Mikhail Pletnev (b. 1957). Then another piece from Medtner for the final encore, Canzone serenata, Op. 38 No. 6, again from his Forgotten Melodies.

We certainly look forward to hearing Alexander Malofeev perform again, and if we’re lucky, perhaps Atlanta will get an opportunity to do so in the near future.

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About the author:
Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. He began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.

Read more by Mark Gresham.
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