Prix Serdang 2024 for Alexandra Dovgan
Rachmaninoff, Schumann, Scriabin

Villa Serdang, Feldbrunnen SO, 2024-06-23

4.5-star rating

2024-07-01 — Original posting

Prix Serdang 2024 für Alexandra Dovgan — Zusammenfassung

Zum dritten Mal versammelte sich ein kleines, erlesenes Publikum in der Villa Serdang am Rande des Dorfes Feldbrunnen, zu Fuß erreichbar von der barocken Kantonshauptstadt Solothurn. Anlass war die Verleihung des vom Mäzen Adrian Flury gestifteten Prix Serdang 2024. Über die Idee dieses Preises habe ich bereits im letztjährigen Bericht geschrieben und erspare mir deshalb eine detaillierte Beschreibung. Der Preis ist mit CHF 50’000 dotiert und wird ohne Ausschreibung oder Wettbewerb vergeben. Die Vergabe erfolgt einzig auf Empfehlung des österreichischen Pianisten Rudolf Buchbinder in Zusammenarbeit mit Adrian Flury und Thomas Pfiffner (Projektleiter).

Nach dem englischen Pianisten Martin James Bartlett (*1996, Prix Serdang 2022) und dem Israeli Ariel Lanyi (*1997, Prix Serdang 2023) fiel die Wahl diesmal auf die 17-jährige Russin Alexandra Dovgan (*2007), die ich bereits letztes Jahr im Rahmen eines Konzertes der Orpheum-Stiftung erleben durfte.


Alexandra Dovgan eröffnete ihr Rezital mit drei selten gespielten Sätzen von Sergej Rachmaninow (1873 – 1943), der Paraphrase auf 3 Sätze (Preludio, Gavotte, Gigue) aus der Partita Nr.3 für Violine solo in E-dur, BWV 1006 von Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). Im Zentrum der Aufführung stand die technisch sehr anspruchsvolle Klaviersonate Nr.2 in g-moll, op.22 von Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856). Der eigentliche Höhepunkt des Abends folgte am Ende mit der Klaviersonate Nr.2 in gis-moll, op.19 (Sonate-Fantaisie) von Alexander Skrjabin (1872 – 1915). Als Zugabe spielte die Pianistin den Walzer Nr.7 in cis-moll, op.64/2 (B.164/2, CT 213) von Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849).

Table of Contents


Venue, Date & TimeVilla Serdang, Feldbrunnen SO, 2023-06-25 11:00h
Series / TitlePrix Serdang 2024 — Award Ceremony & Recital, Alexandra Dovgan
OrganizerVilla Serdang, Feldbrunnen
PR Agency: 2 dream Productions
Reviews from related eventsPrix Serdang 2023, Award Ceremony & Recital
Alexandra Dovgan in an orchestral concert of the Orpheum Foundation, on 2023-04-01

Prix Serdang

I wrote extensively about the Prix Serdang in my review of the 2023 award recital (2023-06-25). I mentioned its connection to the venue, the Villa Serdang in Feldbrunnen, near the baroque town of Solothurn, the capital of the canton of the same name. Rather than repeat myself, let me just briefly summarize the essentials:

Villa Serdang is a beautiful mansion within walking distance of Solothurn. It was originally built in 1644, remodeled in 1892, and finally renovated in 2012 by the art patron and former entrepreneur Adrian Flury. It was Adrian Flury who initiated the idea of a prize for young, emerging international pianists. Together with the project manager Thomas Pfiffner (Managing Director of the Orpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists), the patron established what was to become the Prix Serdang. Thomas Pfiffner was able to secure the cooperation of the Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder (*1946).

A Prize for Young Talents

The prize, which consists of the handsome sum of CHF 50,000 (unconditional, “no strings attached”), is not awarded as the result of a competition, nor is it based on calls, public appeals, proposals, or applications. Rather, the curator, Rudolf Buchbinder, after thorough research, selects a very small number of candidates whom he considers to be the most talented and deserving of the prize. Adrian Flury, Thomas Pfiffner and Rudolf Buchbinder jointly make the final decision on the winner. This was the third edition of the Prix Serdang, following the

The Prix Serdang 2024 stands in contrast to its predecessors: the first announcements already mentioned a “promising, young and female pianist”. The name of the artist— about 10 years younger than the first two laureates—was not revealed until the doors of the venue opened for the recital.

The Artist & Prize Winner: Alexandra Dovgan

When I read the name of the winner, my immediate reaction was “Ah, a familiar name!”. As a matter of fact, I witnessed the artist a year ago, on 2023-04-01, at a concert organized by the Orpheum Foundation for the Support of Young Artists. It is the Russian pianist Alexandra Sergeyevna Dovgan (Александра Сергеевна Довгань, *2007, see also Even though it’s duplicating, I’ll quote the artist’s biography from my 2023 review:


Alexandra Dovgan was born in Moscow into a family of musicians. Both of her parents are professional pianists, and her younger brother also plays the piano. Alexandra received her first piano lessons from her parents at the age of 4 already, and a year later she entered the Central Music School of the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory. She received support from prominent foundations named after Mstislav Rostropovich (1927 – 2007) and Vladimir Spivakov (*1944).

From 2014 (aged 7 – 11) Alexandra Dovgan won first prizes at several international competitions, first in Russia, then in Kazakhstan and Austria. Since 2018, the young artist has had the opportunity to work with prominent orchestras and conductors, first in St.Petersburg, then in major concert halls throughout Western Europe, in cities such as Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, and Zurich. For more information, see Alexandra’s German Wikipedia entry. Not surprisingly, the artist’s lifeline in the Russian Wikipedia entry has not been updated since 2021.

A Prominent Mentor

The 2023 concert booklet included a statement by Grigory Sokolov (*1950), originally quoted on the artist’s agency website: “This is one of those rare occasions. The pianist Alexandra Dovgan can hardly be called a child prodigy, because although this is a miracle, it is not child’s play. One hears a performance of a grown-up individual and personality.“ The first part of this statement was also included in the Prix Serdang brochure.

In 2018, it was Grigory Sokolov who shared the stage with 11-year-old Alexandra Dovgan for a piano recital at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. In 2022, Alexandra made her first appearance in Zurich with a solo recital at the Tonhalle am See (2022-10-31). Alexandra Dovgan’s choice for the 2023 Orpheum concert was Chopin’s Piano Concerto in F minor, op.21, B.43, CT 48, which has been part of her repertoire since she was 11 years old. She toured Europe and Japan with this work in 2022.

The concert brochure mentions that Alexandra Dovgan also plays the organ. She enjoys skiing and is studying ballet and mathematics.


The award ceremony was opened by the patron, Adrian Flury. He announced the winner and expressed his pride in supporting such a promising talent. He also stated that the venue, Villa Serdang, is developing into a venue for cultural, social and business gatherings, including concerts, presentations and art exhibitions. Adrian Flury mentioned that he is in the process of building a collection of music manuscripts and autographs (he mentioned the acquisition of a large set of documents related to Richard Wagner). These exhibits will complement, broaden and deepen the scope of musical events at this venue.

In his short laudatio, Rudolf Buchbinder described the artist’s youth, musical education, early career as a soloist, prominent conductors and orchestras with whom she has worked, and places and concert halls where she has performed. He noted that Alexandra Dovgan’s is one of the few artists whose performances are devoid of show(wo)manship. Rather, she excels in technical brilliance, musical sensitivity and expressiveness. He mentioned the deep emotional intensity of her interpretations which touch the audience. Buchbinder expressed his belief in the artist’s future potential and career.

Thomas Pfiffner then outlined the aforementioned history of the Prix Serdang and the central role played by Rudolf Buchbinder in the selection of the winner. As he mentioned, the jury’s task was easy, as Rudolf Buchbinder has proposed a single name in each of the three instances so far.

Adrian Flury, Alexandra Dovgan, Rudolf Buchbinder — Prix Serdang 2024 (© Thomas_Entzeroth)
Adrian Flury, Alexandra Dovgan, Rudolf Buchbinder — Prix Serdang 2024 (© Thomas_Entzeroth)

Alexandra Dovgan’s Award Recital

The requirement was a performance of approximately 40 minutes (plus a possible encore). The actual program was only announced at the event, along with the artist’s name.

The actual, simple award ceremony took place after the recital.

Setting, etc.

The Prix Serdang award ceremony was an exclusive, closed-door event with approximately 40 invited guests, seated in four rows. The instrument was the venue’s Steinway B-211 grand piano, prepared and tuned by Michel Ehrenbaum, Bachmann Pianos, Wetzikon.

Recital & Review

Considering her age of 17, it wasn’t surprising that Alexandra Dovgan has grown not only in stature but also in personality. From the moment she entered the hall, she seemed more confident than in her concert performance last year. She did not look shy, but still modest, did not address the audience, but went straight to the instrument. She immediately focused on her performance, which began after a brief moment of reflection.

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff: 3 Movements from J.S. Bach’s Partita No.3 in E major for Violin solo

Composer & Work

After a busy, often hectic, years of traveling as concert pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) sought rest and recuperation. In 1932, he built his Villa Senar near Hertenstein on the shores of Lake Lucerne. Until his last concert in Europe, at the 1939 Lucerne International Music Festival, Rachmaninoff typically spent summers at Villa Senar, now with a slightly reduced concert schedule. Nevertheless, only six new works were written between the late ’20s and the composer’s death. In addition to revising earlier works, Rachmaninoff also wrote transcriptions and paraphrases for his own needs as a performing artist. Among these is the Paraphrase of 3 Movements from J.S. Bach’s Partita No.3 in E major for Violin solo, BWV 1006, written in 1933 or 1934. The selection of movements includes

  1. Preludio: Non allegro (from I. Preludio)
  2. Gavotte (from III. Gavotte en Rondeau)
  3. Gigue (from VI. Gigue)

The Performance

A performance of Rachmaninoff’s paraphrase involves several levels of abstraction. On the one hand, the paraphrase reflects Rachmaninoff’s perception of Bach’s Partita No.3 for Violin solo in E major, BWV 1006 as it was performed by violin virtuosos in his time, the first half of the 20th century. Rachmaninoff transferred this to his instrument, the concert grand. Then, of course, he didn’t leave Bach’s score untouched, but colored and expanded it, guided by his own, romantic musical mind. Now, artists not only add their personal perspective onto Rachmaninoff’s paraphrase, but they must also be aware of how violinists today perform Bach’s original music, which may feel like “closing the loop” back to Bach.

Interestingly, some of Rachmaninoff’s additions to the Preludio seem to have been inspired by Bach’s own transcription for obbligato organ, oboes and strings from the Cantata “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir“, BWV 29.

I. Preludio: Non allegro

The first two bars are all original: the simplicity of Bach’s theme. From the first notes, Alexandra Dovgan’s articulation felt fresh, clear, resolute, not romanticizing. From bar 3, Bach’s movement is a seemingly endless chain of semiquavers that continues until the final 5-bar formula. This semiquaver line is, of course, full of hidden polyphony, often realized by switching between two strings. The paraphrase aspect of Rachmaninoff’s writing begins in bar 3, where the left hand adds a discreet complementary voice, at first in perfectly fitting baroque style, indistinguishable from one of Bach’s 15 Two-Part Inventions BWV 772 – 786.

In bar 13, however, the piano score expands the two-string polyphony by adding chords in the left hand. These are clearly in post-romantic style, as are the denser textures that follow. There are more and more romantic “excursions”, expanding in volume and tonal range, occasionally approaching the style of Bach transcriptions by Ferruccio Busoni (1866 – 1924). Gradually, Rachmaninoff makes the movement his own, especially in the harmonies. On the whole, however (at least in Alexandra Dovgan’s dynamically careful and differentiated interpretation), the paraphrase retains the light, serene attitude of Bach’s original, avoiding the pomp and glory of many of Busoni’s transcriptions.

Alexandra Dovgan not only maintained an exceptional clarity and conciseness of articulation, but also consistently built dynamics and intensity throughout the movement. Only momentarily (e.g., in the section beginning at bar 29, and in an equivalent section later in the movement) did I sense a very slight loss of momentum and drive. The occasional rubato / broadening in the approach to the climax was, of course, intentional, even explicitly added by Rachmaninoff.

Alexandra Dovgan — Prix Serdang 2024 (© Thomas_Entzeroth)
Alexandra Dovgan — Prix Serdang 2024 (© Thomas_Entzeroth)
II. Gavotte

Here, Alexandra Dovgan maintained a measured, calm pace, subtle, light (“baroquish”) and concise in articulation, with gentle agogic swaying. The episodes formed a nice contrast: melodious, with highly differentiated dynamics, transparent, legato cantilenas embedded in Rachmaninoff’s harmonically enriched textures. The final episode is the richest in Rachmaninoff’s paraphrase, with blossoming romanticism. The artist allowed the interpretation to gain momentum, but always managed to preserve the spirit of Bach’s original. The final phrase consists only of the first part of the refrain: here the music softens, retreating into warmth and intimacy. Beautiful!

III. Gigue

As the Preludio, Bach’s Gigue is strictly linear. Rachmaninoff’s paraphrase is a virtuosic and captivating little marvel. Alexandra Dovgan presented a play- and joyful interpretation, highly differentiated in dynamics and articulation, maintaining agility, clarity and transparency throughout Rachmaninoff’s added polyphony and dynamic contrasts. Fascinating!

Rating: ★★★★½

An excellent choice for opening a solo recital—and a convincing interpretation!

Robert Schumann, by M. Lämmel
Robert Schumann

Schumann: Piano Sonata No.2 in G minor, op.22

Composer & Work

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) wrote three piano sonatas:

  1. F♯ minor. op.11 (composed 1830 – 1835)
  2. G minor, op.22 (composed 1830 – 1834)
  3. F minor, op.14 (composed 1836)

The confusion with the opus numbers is due to the fact that the Piano Sonata No.2 in G minor, op.22 was not published until 1839. The work is in four movements:

  1. So rasch wie möglich (♩=114) — Schneller — Noch schneller
  2. Andantino (♪=104), getragen
  3. Scherzo: Sehr rasch und markiert (♩=138)
  4. Rondo: Presto (♩=160) — Etwas langsamer — A tempo — Prestissimo, quasi cadenza — Immer schneller und schneller

Wikipedia calls this the most popular and most performed of Schumann’s piano sonatas. It is known for its high technical demands. Schumann reworked the sonata several times. In 1838, Clara Schumann (1819 – 1896) asked her husband to replace the original finale, Presto passionato, with a less difficult movement, which is now included in the published version.

The Performance

I. So rasch wie möglich — Schneller — Noch schneller

Rachmaninoff’s Bach paraphrase left no doubt about Alexandra Dovgan’s technical abilities and reserves, her musicality, the depth of her musical understanding. Schumann’s demanding first movement also revealed the artist’s superb technique, her stamina, her reserves of power. Yet somehow the interpretation wasn’t quite as convincing as the opening piece. I found it difficult to explain this finding. There were no mishaps or real technical shortcomings. However, I found her right hand chords to be a bit mellow at times, which made me wish for a more “steely” character. Also, in the last section, I was expecting more power in the ff (especially where amplifying crescendo forks follow). Perhaps the interpretation also lacked some overall structural clarity (in phrasing and dynamics)?

Alexandra Dovgan — Prix Serdang 2024 (© Thomas_Entzeroth)
Alexandra Dovgan — Prix Serdang 2024 (© Thomas_Entzeroth)
II. Andantino

The slow movement is a veritable song without words, with an intensely expressive cantilena in the descant and occasional responses in the bass, complemented by pulsating quavers or, in the middle section, undulating semiquavers. Serene, calm, solemn, an expression of intimacy, of love, ravishingly beautiful. Here, Alexandra Dovgan’s interpretation left nothing to wish for. It was breathtaking to see how naturally she played duplets against triplets, how her melodic lines retained their rhythmic independence, her calmness, the harmonious build-up and overall arch, the careful dynamic gradation throughout the piece.

III. Scherzo: Sehr rasch und markiert

Much of what I said about the artist’s touch / articulation in the first movement applies here as well: the touch sounded a bit soft, the articulation occasionally lacked clarity. In particular, some of the tricky demisemiquaver chords (acciaccaturas, really) were unclear. As a result, the recurring main motif lacked clarity and consistency. One could call this a detail, but this main motif appears prominently six times in the very short scherzo movement…

IV. Rondo: Presto — Etwas langsamer — A tempo — Prestissimo, quasi cadenza — Immer schneller und schneller

Alexandra Dovgan seamlessly followed up with the Rondo movement. I found this questionable: there is no indication of attacca in the printed score, and this connection confuses the listener. It also compromises the structural clarity of the Rondo form (at least in the listener’s mind). The artist showed high agility in the virtuosic Rondo theme. However, the semiquaver figures often lacked the necessary clarity. The problem with these figures is compounded by Schumann’s explicit “Pedal” annotation. Was there perhaps just a slight deficiency in rhythmic precision and regularity in the semiquaver motifs?

The first episode, “Etwas langsamer“, provided a strong contrast to the fiery Rondo theme: more than just “slightly” slower, but intimate, calm, expressive, contemplative: beautiful! The longer A tempo section returned to the semiquaver motion, but initially retained some of the reflecting character of the first episode, building up the initial Rondo theme. The second episode (in E♭ major) continued the contemplative, reflective nature of its predecessor. The longer semiquaver section that follows is full of modulation—it feels like a development section. Ultimately it modulates back to G minor for the Rondo theme. Here, Alexandra Dovgan gradually accelerated toward the Prestissimo, quasi cadenza. This part is pp, and here one could argue that Schumann wanted it to sound ghastly, blurry.

Overall Rating: ★★★★

A very demanding piece in which even Schumann pushed the technique to his own limits! Afterwards I learned that this was Alexandra Dovgan’s first public performance of this sonata, which may explain why the interpretation wasn’t quite as convincing (yet) as in the first piece. A risky choice of repertoire for this occasion?

Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin
Alexander Scriabin

Scriabin: Piano Sonata No.2 in G♯ minor, op.19, “Sonate-Fantaisie

Composer & Work

Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872 – 1915) wrote ten piano sonatas. The Piano Sonata No.2 in G♯ minor, op.19, “Sonate-Fantaisie, is the result of a five-year process that ended with its publication in 1898. Most of Scriabin’s piano sonatas are in one movement. Only Nos.1 and 3 are in four movements, Nos.2 and 4 are in two. For the technically and musically demanding Sonata No.2, these are

  1. Andante (♩= 60)
  2. Presto (½ = 98 – 100)

The composer wrote a “program” for the sonata. That program reads “The first part evokes the calm of a night by the seashore in the South; in the development we hear the sombre agitation of the depths. The section in E major represents the tender moonlight which comes after the first dark of the night. The second movement, presto, shows the stormy agitation of the vast expanse of ocean”. Source: Hyperion, program notes to the recording “Alexander Scriabin, The Complete Piano Sonatas” with Marc-André Hamelin (*1961).

The Performance

In last year’s concert appearance at the Tonhalle in Zurich on 2023-04-01, Alexandra Dovgan played Alexander Scriabin’s highly virtuosic Étude in D♯ minor, op.8/12 (Patetico). A foreshadow of today’s Scriabin performance? It turns out that the longer sonata and the much smaller venue / setting in this recital allowed for a much more direct and in-depth experience:

I. Andante

It was immediately clear to me that Alexandra Dovgan had entered her “home territory” with Scriabin. Her expressive and very atmospheric performance offered warm, full and harmonious sonority, so full of colors, taking advantage of the piano’s excellent tuning and regulation! Rich agogics / rubato, big arches / a big breath, always maintaining tension, highly differentiated and carefully graduated dynamics, gradually building up to the central climax, and then slowly retreating towards the smorzando ending. Masterful!

II. Presto

Again, Alexandra Dovgan connected the movements attacca. The score does not call for attacca (the Andante ends with a fermata and a quarter rest). However, since Scriabin’s sonata is quasi free-form, I saw no problem with such a direct connection. On the contrary, the artist maintained the tension, the sotto voce seemed to grow harmoniously out of the smorzando ending, and the agitated quaver motion in the Presto seemed to emerge naturally from the brief quasi-silence. The artist mastered the virtuosity of the movement almost effortlessly, maintaining excellent sonority and dynamic control, and always carefully emphasizing the melodic motifs in the middle section. A thrilling movement in a single dramatic arch: excellent!

Rating: ★★★★★

The Scriabin Sonata was undoubtedly the highlight of the recital—a very convincing interpretation. Congratulations!

Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric Chopin

Encore — Chopin: Waltz No.7 in C♯ minor, op.64/2, B.164/2, CT 213

Composer & Work

Alexandra Dovgan concluded her recital with an encore. She chose the Waltz No.7 in C♯ minor, op.64/2, B.164/2, CT 213 by Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849). The piece has three themes, arranged in the form A-B-C-B-A-B:

  • A: Tempo giusto
  • B: Più mosso
  • C: Più lento

This sonata is part of Chopin’s last set, the Three Waltzes, op.64 (B.164), composed 1846 – 1847, along with the Waltz in D♭ major, op.64/1 (CT 212, also known as “Minute Waltz”), and Waltz in A♭ major, op.64/3 (CT 214). The waltzes opp. 69 and 70 are earlier compositions published posthumously.

The Performance

A passionate interpretation with a strong, very expressive, sometimes extreme rubato. Often very impulsive, almost bursting at times. Perhaps occasionally a bit too “pushed”, too urging? Not the usual “08/15” interpretation (at least in my opinion): for a waltz from Chopin’s last years, I would (ideally) expect a more relaxed approach, perhaps what one might call “late playfulness”? But OK, one should not expect the wisdom of old age from an interpretation by a 17-year-old artist: I still liked the choice of encore!


The author would like to thank the management of Prix Serdang and Jacqueline Haberl (2 dream Productions) for the invitation to this event. The photos from the event are © Thomas Entzeroth, Drahtzugstrasse 51, CH-8008 Zürich.

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