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Schepkin’s Deep-thinking Pianism


Sergey Schepkin (file photo)

Yesterday at the New Music School in Cambridge, pianist Sergey Schepkin gave a stunningly beautiful, and deeply impactful performance of three landmark Romantic pieces: Schubert’s Six Moments Musicaux (Op. 94), Brahms’s Eight Piano Pieces (Op. 76), and Schumann’s Carnaval (Op. 9). What made the performance so remarkable is that the distinctive aesthetic vision of each of the three composers was powerfully delineated and conveyed. It was as if Schepkin, in studying each score, had penetrated to the very core of the composer’s personality.

In the case of Schubert’s Moments Musicaux, Schepkin boldly emphasized contrasts, allowing Sturm und Drang passion to collide with tender melodiousness, creating a realm of expressivity in which ecstasy and pain mingled in rapidly shifting symbiosis. Schepkin revealed Schubert’s ability to create a sui generis realm, irreducible to words or pictorial elements, yet semantically clear — pure music, if you will, conveying affect inexpressible in any other medium.

For Brahms, Schepkin emphasized the myriad complex layers that criss-cross in the score, evoking a complex polyphony overflowing with lyrical desire, yet bridled and re-bridled with an acute and manly irony. Schepkin avoided any trace of the sentimentality that is too often suffused into Brahms. Seemingly having thought deeply about the magnificent entangled bank character of Brahms’s eight pieces, Schepkin restored the composer’s full plenitude of complexity.

Schepkin gave the closer, Schumann’s Carnaval, surprising and substantial coherence, without ever abrogating the disjointed colors, flashes, moods and bickering that emerge vignette by vignette. He imbued the Sphinxes with a marvelously profound reading as well as a newly convincing place at the heart of human delirium. He gave Chopin his own enigmatic due and summoned a wonderfully dynamic and devilishly mysterious Paganini. By clustering some of the sequential elements together breathlessly and then pacing others more distantly, Schepkin moved constantly between a sort of dark abyss and surface exuberance. The sketches’unity without homogeneity [does this sound like frei aber einsam or frei aber froh?] led to a strikingly revitalized March of the Davidsbϋndler. More celebratory than defiant, the performer seemingly affirmed the composer’s faith in the carnivalesque love and life. I asked to my right and to my left: the feeling was unanimous — best Carnaval ever. The encore, a rich and emotional reading of Schumann’s Arabesque, closed a thrilling evening.

Anne Davenport is a scholar of early modern theology and philosophy. She has published books on medieval theories of infinity and Descartes. Her most recent article is on Atomism and providence in 17th-century England.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. “Schepkin revealed Schubert’s ability to create a sui generis realm, irreducible to words or pictorial elements, yet semantically clear — pure music, if you will, conveying affect inexpressible in any other medium.”

    This is a wonderfully penetrating observation about some of the finest Schubert performance any of us are likely to hear. Impetuous and thrilling as Schumann’s Carnaval was in Sergey Schepkin’s hands, and as masterfully interwoven the Brahms Op. 76, it was his limpid Moments Musicaux that touched me most deeply. It was as if Schepkin had divined Schubert’s own inner life in this music and somehow given it indescribably pure expression. The pianism, astonishing as it was, unfolded in secret, entirely subsumed beneath Schubert/Schepkin’s worldlessly eloquent narratives.

    The reviewer, astute and poetical, expresses what must have been a near-universal impression among last night’s audience: the artist has seen deeply into the heart of this music and its authors. Although I’ve had the good fortune to hear Sergey perform perhaps a dozen times, and cherished his many fine recordings, I hardly expected this small gathering in the intimate confines of the New School of Music to experience the year’s most breathtaking piano performance.

    Comment by nimitta — March 17, 2018 at 6:08 pm

  2. I heard Mr. Schepkin perform this program twice, most recently last week in Groton. Every compliment in the two above pieces/reviews is true. It was, in fact, the year’s most breathtaking performance. The Schumann, Schubert, and Brahms could not have been better. I have heard Mr. Schepkin dozens of times, and feel his mastery of the Romantic repertoire has really been achieved. He is so much more than the Bach pianist people know him for. An extraordinary artist.

    Comment by Susan Miron — March 17, 2018 at 6:43 pm

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