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Alexander Melnikov concert pianist review Sydney June 2024 Australia


4 1/2 stars

Sydney Symphony Orchestra continued their series “International Pianists in Recital” last night at the City Recital Hall, this time featuring Russian concert pianist Alexander Melnikov. With some 40 albums to his name, travelling and performing his way around the world over several decades, Melnikov has had a long and successful career. He began as a child prodigy performing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at the age of 12. His technique is superb and his style is relaxed with very little visible “show”. All his emotion and interpretation is channelled directly through the instrument leading to a fairly staid visual performance but an extraordinary experience audibly.

As an interesting side note, Melnikov took an interest in Historically Informed Performance (HIP) in the 1990’s which was, and still is, extremely rare in Russia. He has frequently performed with German HIP expert keyboardist Andreas Staier, Akademie für Alte Music Berlin, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and other small chamber ensembles. For this concert though, Melnikov chose to program more modern works from the early 1800s to early 1900s.

Tickets were sold all the way up to the “gods” attended by a very good size audience. Their applause was guarded at the beginning of the concert, unsure of what to expect, but was full of appreciation with several curtain calls by the close.

Melnikov opened the evening with the “Wanderer Fantasy” by Schubert, which he has recorded for an album on an historical forte piano of the same era. The theme for the variations is based on Schubert’s very popular lied (song) “Der Wanderer” D489 moving from bustling along to gently dreamy through to a fiercely technical final movement. Even Schubert himself said “the devil may play it” as he found he couldn’t play the work to his own satisfaction.

Melnikov was humble in his entrance to the stage. A simple, light bow with hands clasped across his middle, he sat at the piano with very little adjustment and launched straight into the piece as if he might have only just been there a minute before and was well settled in his seat. This took the audience by surprise and gripped their attention. The initial minutes were taken at a slightly faster tempo than we are used to hearing in most interpretations of the work, which he executed with ease. Only much further into the work were there reflective pauses. The playing was elegant, free of ego and introspective.

The Wanderer Fantasy is an interesting work in that the movements meld together with no break which must have been quite a modern touch for a work of 1822. With this flow throughout, it is also interesting Melnikov took the final cadence, which seems to be written as a grand finale, and finished instead with a quiet chord, cutting back on the show business feel that would normally be expected.

After re-entering the stage, Melnikov launched into the next work by “Fantasies” Brahms even as the applause was still dying away. The work was deeper and more intense, featuring more breaks between the Fantasies to highlight the contrast between them. The interpretation was riveting, sometimes as gentle as a baby sleeping, sometimes free flowing like a very natural stream of thought, tentative and inquisitive. Other times it tumbled out, manic and overwhelming. The work was very popular with the audience who gave generous applause.

After interval was the longer work by Debussy, the complete Book II of his “Preludes”, each with their own story to tell. “Brouillards” (Mists) and “Feuilles Mortes” (Dead leaves) were quiet, mystical and unsettling with an intermittent nervous twitch. “La puerta del Vino” (The Wine Gate) captured a Spanish rhythm with a hiccup and a lumbering gait. “Les Fées sont d’exquises danseuses” (Fairies are exquisite dancers) were mischievous, scampering around the garden and then pausing in curiosity. “Bruyères” (Heathers) was calm and comforting, reminiscent of another well known Debussy work I cannot put my finger on presently. “Général Lavine” was quite comic, making it easy to picture a tubby elderly man, slightly pompous, strutting about on stubby stiff legs. Others included a meat fisted version of “God Save the Queen”, the oh-so-gentle “Canope” and very visual tone poem of Fireworks to complete the cycle.

Melnikov’s playing was truly exquisite and impeccable. He seems to hold a quiet, melancholy feel about his character which translates to a very intense and serious overlay to his playing. He programs music that appeals to him and it perfectly matches what he has to offer the world. It was an excellent concert. See the links below for reference to his recordings.


SCHUBERT – Fantasy in C major ‘Wanderer Fantasy’ D760 1822
BRAHMS – Fantasies Op. 116 1892
DEBUSSY – Preludes Book II 1912-1913


View Harmonia Mundi recorded albums by Alexander Melnikov:
What’s the next classical concerts at City Recital Hall?
Next concerts from Sydney Symphony Orchestra:


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