Mikhail Rudy - Pictures at an Exhibition
Sha Tin Town Hall
Reviewed: Mar 9
Mikhail Rudy's Arts Festival piano recital was an all-Russian affair with a twist in the second half: Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition was fronted here by colourful, full-stage animations produced by Rudy himself and based on the more physically clunky set designs that abstract artist Vassily Kandinsky made for a performance of the work in 1928.
During the first half of the programme, that theme of colour was foreshadowed by the palette of textures in a collation of 20th-century works, starting with the rich harmonies of Scriabin's mystical Two Dances, Op. 73 and Vers la Flamme, Op. 72. Rudy gave these pieces a big-boned approach, turning some sections closer to the sound of modern jazz with their complex, extended chords.
Next up were the translucent ripples of the seventh of Prokofiev's Ten Pieces, Op. 12, followed by the straightforward primary colours of two transcriptions Prokofiev made from his ballet Romeo and Juliet. Rudy took us to the interval with his own transcriptions of extracts from Stravinsky's ballet Petrushka. The brushwork here was too dense for my taste, with passages so crowded with notes that it was difficult to enhance the largely monochrome sound he got from the instrument. Splashes of inaccuracy and rhythmic instability were niggles throughout.
It's always satisfying, however, to leave a concert ruminating on the seeds that a performance has planted in your head. Rudy had clearly put in a lot of effort to recreate Kandinsky's abstract foil for Mussorgsky's directly representational vignettes of pictures by Victor Hartmann. The performance from the keyboard was not the most refined; the on-screen procession of colours and shapes dominating the music was intriguing.
Some tableaux were amusingly simple: the shadow-puppet fisticuffs in Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle; the folksy figures' dispute over a lost cherry in The Market Place at Limoges; and the cute naivety of wavy lines and hyperactive fluffy balls in Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks.
Others were essentially abstract, with blocks of colour moving around at leisure. Some, like the morphing floral kaleidoscope in Tuileries and the monolith sporting two small, bright squares in Catacombs, fell between the two. Kandinsky's simple, alternative takes on Mussorgsky's representations of the canvas images, fused by matchmaker Rudy's hands and eyes, was an unusual meeting of minds.