LIFESTYLE / 26.11.2019. (link)

Under the shadow of Beethoven and Prokofiev: Alexander Malofeev, The Little Prince (the piano), appeared from the snow.

He is only 18 years old, but at first sight he looks much younger: Alexander Malofeev, the new Crown Prince of Russian art of piano, who has visited Paris these days, just a few months after his concert at the Louis Vuitton Foundation and his performance, that made a great impression at the “la Folle Journée” in Nantes. The program preceded this meeting was built on virtuosity, but musicality also wasn`t forgotten.


The beginning is intentionally restrained. It has a dull but beautiful, clear and rounded sound. This is Beethoven's Appassionata. And suddenly there is a roll of thunder: this is how Malofeev conveys the contrasts between the strength and tenderness of Beethoven's music, that completely captures your heart. Perhaps this play of contrasts is somewhat systematic. It combines the crystal sound in calm fragments and the temperamental ending of the first part. The young pianist performs the andante slowly and smoothly, making you remember Bach, as if he is going to prove that at 18 you can be not only a wild horse but also a capable of self-analysis and thinking about personality. It is impossible not to notice that in the finale that began very rapidly, he again used systematic contrasts, that combined with filigree accuracy of performance. And it seemed that his hands were unconnected and completely free, but clearly showed the text of the score. The violent and furious finale, as always with Beethoven, is performed “presto”. All this is Malofeev, who just reached his 18th birthday one month ago. This is what you need to keep in mind, especially a few days after the contestants` performance at the competition named after Marguerite Long and Jacques Thibaud, who are often less mature and with less delicate technique of sound.


The young pianist performed Beethoven's work at the beginning of his program, that consisted entirely of the works of Russian composers and partly of his works earlier performed for the Louis Vuitton Foundation in February. As a result, he was accused of excessive passion for technical virtuosity. Although, we can only wish many performers to have the same energetic and sensitive virtuosity. We suppose that Malofeev could not help but listen to these reproaches, but at his age the mastery of skills is a quick process – that's why he chose Beethoven in order to prove that he wasn`t limited only to the technical side of performance. I`ll be told, that the unimaginable immensity of Beethoven's scores would make the existence of music impossible without his sonatas. But even here the unpredictable young man goes on, connecting the “Apassionata” with the 2nd sonata of Rachmaninov, linking them together (“They are similar”). It`s a difficult Sonata, consisting of the fragments with indecisive, uncertain, slow and a little bit neurasthenic tempo, that Malofeev holds with honor, becoming more orderly by the end, and also more virtuosic. But still, the young pianist has something more. The Music.


In the Internet you can find the video of the performance of an 11-year-old boy, who performed the “Concert” of Grieg with confidence and true musical maturity. He was a worthy replacement for Alice Sarah Ott when conquered the audience, performing the same concert in Nantes in February last year. He also took part in the International Festival of Piano Music in La Roque-d'Anteron, in which photos we can see a 14-year-old boy with thick cheeks. This Tuesday, we really saw how this teenager grew up. I see an ordinary student before me, just the same as many others, he is fair-haired and beardless, young and a little bit embarrassed by answering the questions of the adult in his yet imperfect English. No, his parents were not musicians (he was born in Moscow), but his elder sister used to play the piano, but than gave up playing. And how she could compete with such a talented younger brother, who incredibly quickly surpassed her? When I asked him how many hours a day he spent playing the piano and what he did in his free time (as if he was an unhappy child, siting at the keyboard and dreaming escaping), he answers very quickly: “It wasn`t a punishment for me”, but there was a well-thought-out strategy of mastering the structure of music while learning his works, giving way to instinct at the moment of performing them at the concert. I have no doubt that exactly this instinct makes him go on and on.


"I need to grow up by the way of listening to other pianists and fueled by someone else's music, movies, books. You need to be open to everything. As if you` re throwing pebbles behind you in order to mark the path you've traveled". Such a broad-mind and interest to all kinds of art we can found rarely, including even the adult performers. As for the interest in other people, this is what he says about the pleasure of chamber music, which his generation is now interested in: “Later, of course. I still have to learn new concerts and plays. It will come in due time”. In his 18 years he is an absolutely independent person in everything, including his own manner of performance. When he is asked if he behaves the same way with his professor Sergei Dorensky at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, he said: “I work alone. I learn from others, listening to their music. I work myself on the music works, build it from brick to brick, carefully choosing each of them. When I feel that I’m already ready, I come to my teacher to listen to his assessment and opinion. "So, his professor makes his comments on the finish performance”.


The second part of the concert exclusively consists of Russian music. First of all, from the music of eternal, singing and nostalgic Russia, which Tchaikovsky contributed in his "Dumka". The cloud of sadness around you changes to the furious rhythm (the rhythm of dancing), the same as Liszt created in his Hungarian Rhapsodies at the same period: after tears we seem to choke from jumps and pirouettes, as if we are afraid to fall into sadness again. Malofeev performs Liszt’s scores with wonderful ease, like the oriental “Islamey’s fantasy” of Balakirev, with his arms crossed, with exotic abundance, that this young man performed even more clearly...


So, here is the main question: does he risk being only a performer of Russian music? Seeing the trap in the question (this is the choice of Beethoven), he answers honestly: “Russian music, Russian art is real me, this is my heart, this is my soul”, he said with simplicity, that has nothing in common with the limited conservatism and patriotism, but is able to surprise us, the French, who don`t actually prefer to listen to Russian performers.

The proof of this is Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7. A Sonata is about war? It is cruel, full of violence, bitterness and desire (like Shostakovich's 10th Symphony) (see my article from November 12), that was written during the Apocalypse. Sviatoslav Richter, was the first got acquainted with it, he wrote: “It impressed me deeply, I learned it in four days, than he added:" This work roughly puts us in the threatening atmosphere of the world that has already lost its balance, the world in total chaos”. ."This is exactly what the 18-year-old young man managed to show us today, plunging into its stormy history.


The audience called him for an encore six times-Yes, Yes! Two works by Rachmaninoff, two excerpts from “the Nutcracker” in a beautiful transcription of Mikhail Pletnev, Prokofiev's youthful “Toccata” (here they are - Malofeev's steel fingers!) and also the play (which caused a slight attack of paranoia in the interviewing journalist, who called it the response of a young performer), late Brahms, just in order to prove that he can perform OTHER music. Our conversation ended with just several short questions: Beethoven or Mozart? Despite the fact that he monument his performance with Beethoven’s sonatas, Malofeev answered: Mozart. "His operas. “The Magic Flute” ... Dostoevsky or Chekhov? - Dostoevsky. What is your favorite Russian opera? – “The Tsar’s Bride”. The pearl of the works of Rimsky-Korsakov, a composer whose works we haven`t discovered yet. Yes, Malofeev, an 18 -years old young man is really a Russian person. Even when you see him on the streets of Paris with an ordinary school backpack. An extremely talented boy.

Recital of Alexander Malofeev: Beethoven (Piano Sonata №23 "Appassionata", op.57), Rachmaninoff (Piano sonata №2 in B-flat Minor, Op.36), Tchaikovsky (Dumka), Balakirev (Islamey), Tchaikovsky - Pletnev ("Andante maestoso" from the "Nucracker" ballet), Prokofiev (Piano Sonata No. 7) / Salle Gaveau, Paris, 19/11/2019

Bertrand Renard.