Piano Recital Aleksandr Kliuchko
Liszt / Rachmaninoff

Aula der Universität, Zurich, 2023-10-11

5.0-star rating

2023-10-17 — Original posting

Aleksandr Kliuchko (source: concoursdepiano.com)
Aleksandr Kliuchko (source: concoursdepiano.com)
Aleksandr Kliuchko: ein Name, den man sich merken sollte! — Zusammenfassung

Der im Jahr 2000 in Saransk (Republik Mordwinien) geborene, russische Pianist Aleksandr Kliuchko ist im April 2019 schon einmal in der Aula der Universität Zürich aufgetreten. Es war eine Benefiz-Veranstaltung im Rahmen von “Musik an der ETH und UZH” (Musical Discovery), mit vier PianistInnen. Bereits damals, im Alter von 19 Jahren, hat er mit seiner Darbietung von Ravels “Gaspard de la nuit” dem Anlass die Krone aufgesetzt.

Jetzt, nach vier Jahren, bestritt er am gleichen Ort ein Solo-Rezital mit einem äußerst anspruchsvollen Programm, aus Anlass des 150. Geburtstages von Sergei Rachmaninow (1873 – 1943). Im Zentrum des Anlasses standen dessen fünf Morceaux de fantaisie, op.3 dieses Komponisten, sowie die gewichtige und technisch sehr herausfordernde Klaviersonate Nr.2 in b-moll, op.36. Aleksandr Kliuchko präsentiere eine stupende, technisch und musikalisch gereifte Interpretation.

Aleksandr Kliuchkos Programm bis zur Pause bestand aus einer Auswahl von acht der 12 Études d’exécution transcendante, S.139 von Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886). Diese sind technisch und musikalisch nicht minder anspruchsvoll—und der Pianist bot auch hier eine durchweg überzeugende, ja begeisternde Interpretation.


Der Pianist beschloss sein Programm mit zwei Zugaben. Als erstes das lyrisch-friedliche Nocturne in cis-moll, op.19/4 von Pjotr Iljitsch Tschaikowski (1840 – 1893). Nach den technisch anspruchsvollen Werken des Rezitals schien diese Musik beinahe harmlos.

Wie um diesen Eindruck zu korrigieren, schob der Pianist noch einen gewichtigen “Brocken” nach: den dritten Satz, Allegro molto vivace, aus Tschaikowskis Sinfonie Nr.6 in h-moll, op.74, “Pathétique, in der Klaviertranskription von Samuil Feinberg (1890 – 1962). Die Musik ist ein letzter “Hit”, den Tschaikowski kurz vor seinem plötzlichen Tod noch komponiert hatte. Feinbergs Transkription gehört mit zum technisch Anspruchsvollsten, was die Klavierliteratur zu bieten hat. Es braucht kaum erwähnt zu werden, dass Aleksandr Kliuchkos Darbietung dieser hinreißenden Musik vollends begeisterte.

Table of Contents


Venue, Date & TimeAula der Universität, Zurich, 2023-10-11 19:30h
Series / TitleMusik an ETHZ und UZH — Piano Recital Aleksandr Kliuchko
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 150th Anniversary
OrganizerMusical Discovery
Reviews from related eventsRecitals in the Main Convention Hall at Zurich University
Previous Concerts in the Series “Musik an der ETH und UZH
Previous appearance of Aleksandr Kliuchko in this series

The Artist: Aleksandr Kliuchko

I have encountered the Russian pianist Aleksandr Kliuchko previously, in a short recital (also organized by Musical Discovery) in the same location in Zurich, on 2019-04-30. This was a joint recital featuring four young pianists. Aleksandr Kliuchko was the youngest of the artists, and his interpretation clearly outperformed all other pianists in that event. Let me just quote from the biographic notes in my report on that recital:

The pianist was born 2000 in Saransk (Republic of Mordovia). He studied with Sergei Artsybashev at the Frederic Chopin University of Music in Moscow. Since 2018, he is a student at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, with Rena Shereshevskaya. At his young age, he has already won several prizes at competitions in Ekaterinburg, Moscow, Astana (Kazakhstan), Paris, and in Spain (Santander, Barcelona). He also made appearances on notable concert stages in Moscow and Paris and participated in festivals in Irkutsk (“Stars on Baikal”) and Aarhus, Denmark (Gradus Piano Festival). Last year (2022), Aleksandr Kliuchko won the first prize and gold medal at the International Rachmaninoff Competition in Moscow.


This is the second concert that Musical Discovery is offering on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943). The first one was a piano recital on 2023-04-20 in the same venue. It featured the Russian-Swiss pianist Konstantin Scherbakov (*1963, see also Wikipedia), performing an all-Rachmaninoff program.

For this recital, Aleksandr Kliuchko selected a program starting with some highly challenging works by Franz Liszt—but of course culminating in masterworks by Rachmaninoff:

Setting, etc.

To me, the setting was identical to the one in all previous concerts in that venue. Again, I took a seat on the right-hand side of the audience (second row). This allowed me to have an unobstructed view onto the artist. This seat also offered good acoustics (some 5 meters from the instrument, a Steinway B-211 mid-size concert grand) without getting blasted by fff passages. As stated, this was the second time Aleksandr Kliuchko appeared in this venue. And his previous performance was fabulous. Yet, to my disappointment, the audience wasn’t nearly as full as I expected. I blame this on the school vacations, not on the war in Ukraine…

Concert & Review

Franz Liszt, 1858
Franz Liszt, 1858

Liszt: Études d’exécution transcendante, S.139

Composer & Work

Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) wrote the original version of his 12 Études d’exécution transcendante, S.139 back in 1837. However, the set only acquired its current title with the publication of a revised version in 1852. I have written about these studies in the context of a CD comparison (2012-04-25). Therefore, I’ll just list the artist’s selection from the Études in the order of the performance:

Volume I

  1. Preludio (C major)
  2. Fusées (“fireworks”, A minor)
    Molto vivace — Prestissimo
  3. Paysage (“landscape”, F major)
    Poco adagio — Un poco più animato il tempo
  4. Mazeppa (D minor)
    Allegro — Animato — Allegro deciso — Più moderato — Vivace
  5. Feux follets (“Will-o’-the-wisp”, B♭ major)

Volume II

  1. Wilde Jagd (“wild chase / hunt”, C minor)
    Presto furioso
  1. Harmonies du soir (“evening harmonies”, D♭ major)
    Andantino — Poco più mosso — Più lento con intimissimo sentimento — Molto animato
  2. Chasse neige (“snow storm”, B♭ minor)
    Andante con moto

Besides the media comparison mentioned above, I have reported about two concert performances of Liszt’s Études d’exécution transcendante. The first was a partial one (Nos.9, 6, 5) in a recital on 2017-03-17. A performance of the complete set of 12 studies followed in a solo recital on 2023-02-23.

The Performance

I have already alluded to this: it was a highly remarkable recital! Aleksandr Kliuchko swiftly entered the hall. Even though the venue was not overcrowded, it took a few seconds for the audience to notice his presence. The artist did not make a big fuss about his arrival. He briefly bowed to accept the applause, then sat down at the instrument, and started playing almost immediately.

From that moment on, Aleksandr Kliuchko barely seemed to take notice of the presence of an audience. His focus was entirely and exclusively on the instrument and the performance. One could see this from the artist’s facial mimics, which were all concentration and attention. Occasionally, there was perhaps a hint of pain and sorrow, reflecting the atmosphere in the music he played. Clearly, the highly virtuosic nature of the program barely gave a chance for delving in pure joy or enlightenment!

I. Preludio

Already Liszt’s flashy fireworks of the Preludio opening set the “standard” for the entire concert: masterful, sovereign, seemingly effortless. Fast, powerful, grand, almost huge sonority, though not exceedingly theatrical (e.g., in the descending trill chain in the bass, prior to the closing sequence).

II. Fusées

I referred to the Preludio as fireworks—in Liszt’s titles, though, the actual firework only happens in the second movement, to which Preludio is just the opening. Aleksandr Kliuchko presented an impressive demonstration of volume control and virtuosity: enthralling, dramatic, compelling, exploiting the capacity of the instrument.

There were rare instances (also in Paysage) where the sound was a tad hard, metallic in the descant. However, one always should allow the artist to “calibrate” his power to the acoustics with the given audience size, and to the instrument (and a mid-size grand has its limitations). That said: throughout the recital, I barely noted instances of excess power on the instrument. The artist (probably subconsciously) adjusted his touch, and/or my ears adapted to the acoustics / sonority, too?

III. Paysage

Excellent dynamic and sonority control, internal dynamic balance, integration of agogics and rubato. At the same time, detached from any technicalities, the artist freely appeared to shape the big waves of dynamic and dramatic arches.

IV. Mazeppa

After the capricious opening chords and the parading waves of the cadenza, the Allegro was both stunning and fabulous in its neck-breaking virtuosity—and yet, Aleksandr Kliuchko was able to maintain his focus on the melodic line in the descant. Surely, Liszt’s instruments (while offering more colors) didn’t come near this explosion in power and sonority! The middle part (Lo stesso tempo) moved the virtuosity into the periphery, while maintaining the focus on the beautiful, lyrical cantabile in the middle voice.

The enthralling fury of the Allegro deciso culminated in exploiting the last “bit” in volume that the instrument had to offer. This led into the transition, which dramatically illustrated the violent torturing and fall of the hero, Mazeppa (Ivan Mazepa, 1639 – 1709), who appeared to perish, just to stand up again as the leader and hero of Ukraine.

V. Feux follets

Exceptional clarity in rhythm and textures. Balance and dynamic control over many voices, natural flow, “integrated” (inconspicuous) rubato—superb!

VIII. Wilde Jagd

One could see this study as a demonstration of power. At the same time, it illustrated the erratic movements of hunters and the deer in a wild chase. Aleksandr Kliuchko’s interpretation was dramatic. It changed to playful in the almost leisurely middle part, which gradually built up to the first fff, con brio climax, then again to the culmination in the violent fff marcatissimo closure.

XI. Harmonies du soir

It’s a pity that Aleksandr Kliuchko did not perform all the Études d’exécustion transcendante. However, the entire set would have overloaded the program. And, after all, the main reason for the recital was Rachmaninoff’s anniversary! In any case, Harmonies du soir proved an excellent contrast and continuation to the turbulent Wilde Jagd.

Calm, reflective, highly atmospheric, beautiful, harmonious, warm, almost intimate. Inevitably, though, the piece evolved into dramatic and full-fingered, virtuosic, big arches. Towering climaxes: a human’s overwhelmed feelings and thoughts in view of the miracles of nature. Then again deep thoughts and contemplation: a retrospective about one’s life, maybe also celestial visions—and an ending in transfiguration. Amazing not only in the virtuosity and technical prowess, but also in dynamic control, and particularly in the gradual relaxing, the controlled decrescendo (which is far more difficult than building up volume!).

XII. Chasse neige

Beautiful cantilenas in the dialog of the outer voices, around the iridescent, nervously tremulating middle voices: dynamic and textural clarity, controlled dynamics, both in the big arches, as well as in the rolling hemidemisemiquaver waves. The whole movement was one single, compelling, big arch, during which the tension never dropped a bit (which can be said about the entire performance, needless to say).

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff: Morceaux de fantaisie, op.3

Composer & Work

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) wrote his Morceaux de fantaisie, op.3 in 1892. The op.3 consists of five compositions:

  1. Elégie in E♭ minor, op.3/1
  2. Prélude in C♯ minor, op.3/2
  3. Mélodie in E major, op.3/3
  4. Polichinelle in F♯ minor, op.3/4
  5. Sérénade in B♭ minor, op.3/5

To the composer’s dismay, the Prélude in C♯ minor appeared to be the most popular of his set of ultimately 24—and it obviously still enjoys this reputation. Allegedly, op.3/2 at some point was so popular that Rachmaninoff grew tired of it and “wished he had never written it”.

The concerts that I have reviewed reflect this imbalance in popularity. Seven concerts / recitals featured pieces from op.3, most of these just one or two. There was one single recital (with Konstantin Scherbakov on, 2023-04-20) featuring four pieces from op.3. So far, I wrote about five performances of op.3/2. This is the first time I have witnessed a complete performance of op.3 in concert.

The Performance

On to the “Rachmaninoff part” of the recital:

I. Elégie in E♭ minor, op.3/1

A masterful study in independent agogics between the two hands, highly atmospheric! Not with veiled articulation, as some might expect, but combining clarity and gentle articulation. “Ah, the Russian soul still exists”, I wrote in my notes. Not that I had any doubts about this, of course, given the central role that the Russian composers played in the music of the 19th and 20th centuries…

II. Prélude in C♯ minor, op.3/2

Here, the three descending ff notes that open this all-too famous piece felt rather moderate, maybe f at most, harmoniously transitioning into the subsequent ppp, and fitting to the recurring instances of this initial motif. This may have been a reaction to the reputation of this Prélude. It could of course just as well be Aleksandr Kliuchko’s personal take on this music. In any case, it again demonstrated that his performance was not mere show, was not seeking effect and sensation. Harmonious dynamics (arches, build-ups and decrescendo) already characterized the Liszt studies prior to the intermission.

The Agitato wasn’t instantaneous, but gradually, along with the crescendo from ppp, picked up tempo in a consequent build-up, to the impressive sffff climax and the subsequent, controlled, and harmonious decrescendo to the ppp ending. The climax challenged the capacity of the instrument. Not surprisingly, the Steinway B-211 started to show very subtle signs of degradation in the tuning. That’s nothing to blame the artist for, of course: “diluting” this piece is out of question!

III. Mélodie in E major, op.3/3

Another example of excellent dynamic control and balance, keeping the focus on the beautiful cantilena. At the same time, one could enjoy the fabulous rhythmically independent agogics between the melody and the gently swaying, syncopated triplet accompaniment, throughout the rubato.

IV. Polichinelle in F♯ minor, op.3/4

As already in the Prélude, the two sfff opening notes appeared moderated (OK, they are single notes, not chords), adjusted for the joking, capricious ppp passage that follows. The second instance of the opening notes (downshifted by an octave) then definitely had the requested volume. The ff part of the Allegro vivace maintained dense, almost legato sonority in the capricious, chordal segments. The intermittent waves of semiquaver runs were flashy, blazingly fast.

The Agitato entirely focused on the central cantilena: intense, expressive. At the same time, the semiquaver accompaniment appeared almost casual. The return of the initial segment then felt compressed, like a stretto. As if the first instance hadn’t been virtuosic enough already! In sum: a fascinating performance—intense fun, technically masterful, flawless, yet devoid of dryness. Stunning!

V. Sérénade in B♭ minor, op.3/5

The Sostenuto opening was hesitant, rhythmically free, almost like a recitative, full of expectation, if not suspense. In the Tempo di valse, Aleksandr Kliuchko maintained his focus on the melody line, throughout the rubato and the rich agogics. It felt like a pity that the Sérénade appears neglected relative to the other Morceaux de fantaisie!

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonata No.2 in B♭ minor, op.36

Composer & Work

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) Composed his Piano Sonata No.2 in B♭ minor, op.36 in 1913, three years after completing his Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, op.30. I have written about performances of this sonata in four recitals between 2015 and 2023. Here, I’ll just mention the movements:

  1. Allegro agitato — Meno mosso — Poco Più mosso — Tempo I — Meno mosso
  2. Non allegro — Lento — Poco più mosso — Tempo I
  3. L’istesso tempo — Allegro molto — A tempo, poco meno mosso — Tempo I — Più mosso — Tempo rubato — Presto

Let me quote from one of my earlier reviews of concert performances of this sonata: “This is a showpiece in highly virtuosic piano literature, full of monstrous technical challenges. (…) Rachmaninoff wasn’t quite satisfied with the composition. Primarily, he found it to be too long. So, in 1931, he published a second, shorter version with a few simplifications. It still remains a technically very challenging piece, though.” Aleksandr Kliuchko performed that later (1931) version of the sonata.

The Performance

If from here on my comments appear thinned out, it’s because I’m running out of vocabulary. Overall (mutatis mutandis), my previous comments equally apply to the sonata performance.

I. Allegro agitato — Meno mosso

A compelling performance, combining high(est) musicality with structural and textural clarity, as well as excellent control in touch and dynamics. With all that praise: Aleksandr Kliuchko’s interpretation was not a demonstration of technical prowess and perfection: there wasn’t a single moment of academic dryness. At the same time, I never sensed any trumping up, nor were there any excessive musical gestures, let alone show elements, such as spectacular body language / movements.

II. Non allegro — Lento — Poco più mosso

The pianist presented the opening Non allegro as rhythmically free recitative, intimate, almost religious, pensive, atmospheric. The subsequent Lento was a highly expressive, melancholic lament that gradually built up to an intense climax. A moment of exhaustion followed. This then leads to a reminiscence of key motifs from the first movement (Poco più mosso). These appear to evolve into an intricate polyphonic structure—but then mutate into falling motifs in the descant over a somber, stepping bass.

This accelerates into an accelerating cadenza with cascades of falling semiquaver motifs, and finally turning upwards again, into a fermata. The final segment, again with reminiscences of motifs from the first movement, is a masterful transition to the last movement, full of mystery and suspense. Aleksandr Kliuchko presented this multifaceted movement as a single, “integrated”, dramatic arch, despite its internal contrasts.

III. L’istesso tempo — Allegro molto — Presto

In a seamless transition, the final movement (attacca) continues the transition from the middle movement for seven bars (L’istesso tempo). In bar #8, the music suddenly erupts into an ff cascade. This leads into a highly virtuosic, powerful segment with intermittent strongly rhythmic sequences: rhapsodic, forceful, power-draining—all in a breathless, irresistible musical flow into the brilliant final bars.

Aleksandr Kliuchko performed the entire sonata in a compelling, conclusive interpretation that left nothing to wish for—masterful, indeed!

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Encore — Tchaikovsky: Nocturne in C♯ minor, op.19/4

Composer & Work

In the autumn of 1873, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) completed his 6 Morceaux, op.19. Here’s the list of the six “pieces”, out of which Aleksandr Kliuchko selected the No.4, Nocturne in C♯ minor as his first encore:

  1. Rêverie du soir: Andante espressivo, G minor
  2. Scherzo humoristique: Allegro vivacissimo, D major
  3. Feuillet d’album: Allegretto semplice, D major
  4. Nocturne: Andante sentimentale, C♯ minor
  5. Capriccioso: Allegretto semplice, B♭ major
  6. Thème original et variations: Andante non tanto, F major

For the occasion of a concert in February 1888, Tchaikovsky arranged the Nocturne for cello and orchestra (Andante, in D minor).

The Performance

As if he wanted to calm down the audience after the turmoil of Rachmaninoff’s sonata, Aleksandr Kliuchko selected a lyrical, peace- and thoughtful encore. It seemed only natural that the artist did not follow up with another virtuoso piece. The Nocturne in C♯ minor, the No.4 from Tchaikovsky’s Six morceaux, op.19, perfectly served the purpose of mental, physical, and emotional “recovery”. Pensive and melancholic music that seemed to come straight out of Tchaikovsky’s Les Saisons“, op.37a—soothing, beautiful!

Samuil Feinberg
Samuil Feinberg

Encore — Feinberg: Transcription of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6, III. Allegro molto vivace

Composer & Work

Samuil Yevgenyevich Feinberg (Самуи́л Евге́ньевич Фе́йнберг, 1890 – 1962) was a Russian composer, born in Odessa (now Ukraine), who spent almost all of his life in Moscow. He wrote three piano concertos. Apart from these and two violin sonatas, his oeuvre (op.1 up to op.48) consist of works for piano (many highly virtuosic), and songs (voice and piano) to around equal parts.

In 1942, Feinberg write his 3 Transcriptions of symphonies by Tchaikovsky, op.31, featuring one movement from three symphonies:

  1. Andante marziale from Symphony No.2 in C minor, op.17
    (after II. Andantino marziale, quasi moderato)
  2. Waltz from Symphony No.5 in E minor, op.64
    (after III. Valse: Allegro moderato)
  3. Allegro molto vivace from Symphony No.6 in B minor, op.74, “Pathétique
    (after III. Allegro molto vivace)

The Performance

Apparently, the above encore was not enough! After maybe two “curtains”, Aleksandr Kliuchko sat down at the instrument again—to perform Tchaikovsky’s last and final “hit piece”, the third movement, Allegro molto vivace, from the Symphony No.6. This was created shortly before the composer’s sudden death. The movement is highly popular, and a virtuosic challenge for orchestras. In Feinberg’s piano transcription, the technical challenges are immense, given the complexity, the polyrhythmic texture of the orchestral score.

Aleksandr Kliuchko not only brilliantly mastered the intricacies of the transcription: he managed to “fetch out” the main theme in its countless instances while maintaining clarity in the “orchestral background textures”. And, at the same time, he maintained the enthralling flow, the irresistible “pull” forward, relentlessly maintaining the tension. In his hands, the piece felt more fluent, cohesive, and stringent than a typical orchestral performance. At the same time, though, anybody who has ever heard the original in concert could vividly sense the competing brass fanfares with the ever-returning main theme. That alone was a proof that the artist’s performance (as well as the transcription, of course) was fabulous!

Above all this: the fact that after the power-draining, exhausting performances of both Liszt’s Études, and Rachmaninoff’s notoriously challenging piano highlights, Aleksandr Kliuchko had the power reserves to tackle Feinberg’s horrendously difficult transcription left the audience in awe, speechless.


My review says it all: an artist already at the height of his art (at age 23!)—someone to watch out for over the years to come!


The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Nina Orotchko / Musical Discovery, for the invitation & free entry to this concert.

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