Pletnev’s C.P.E. Bach

Beth Levin

[April 2002.]

When Mike, our editor, asked me to give a listen to a CD of Mikhail Pletnev, a Russian pianist, playing C.P.E. Bach, I was moved to write a poem:

I never met
Mr Pletnever
Or had the pleasure
or the measure of the man,
never never.

Sometimes a Russian will
tread on Bach
(even C.P.E.)
with the force of

A simple phrase rings out
like the bells of Pskov
chiming and sending one
climbing the walls.
The walls have embroidered
wallpaper too.

I will put aside my
bias, my foreseeing,
my pianist’s pride and listen to
Mr Pletnever with the ears
of a babe.

May they never say of me
“she listened and understood nothing!”
Never, never.

I was being flip, of course. Asking one pianist to review another is a little like asking Tonya Harding to lace up Nancy Kerrigan’s skates. I’ll do it but I don’t have to like it.

Putting my baser instincts aside, I listened sincerely and came up with a few impressions.

I heard some lovely, flowing pianism from Mr Pletnev, if at times his musical choices were a bit bizarre. His use of rubato and extremes of sound reminded one more of Liszt than C.P.E. Often a very thin, light touch was used, as if the notes had been written in small print. As soon as a phrase began it would stop abruptly and the effect, then, was to rob the music of its strength of form. One got the feeling of an improvisation before bedtime with a glass of sherry. C.P.E. Bach was an experimental composer — halfway between Bach Sr. and the Romantics — and in that sense Mr Pletnev may not be so far off the mark.


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