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Master pianist returns to city.

Byline: Richard Duckett

Russian pianist Denis Matsuev won plenty of new fans when he first appeared at Mechanics Hall seven years ago with the Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra.

Former Telegram & Gazette reviewer Jennifer Weininger was evidently one of them. Matsuev's rendition of Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1" was a "knock-'em dead performance," Weininger wrote. A standing ovation followed, and Matsuev gave two encores, including a jazz improvisation. "What a razzle-dazzle show this titanic pianist put on!" Weininger enthused.

It was the first of two visits to Mechanics Hall in 2001, but he has not been back since. That will change Monday when Matsuev performs with the State Symphony Orchestra of Russia in a concert presented by Music Worcester Inc. This will be the final stop of the orchestra's current brief 11-concert Eastern U.S. tour with conductor Mark Gorenstein.

Asked if he remembers playing here, Matsuev replied, "I never forget. It was a very good hall."

If he can "knock-'em dead" playing a Tchaikovsky piano concerto, one can truly get excited about what the musical outcome will be when Matsuev plays what he declared is his fan favorite - Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor."

The concerto is on Monday's program, along with several works by Tchaikovsky, including his beautiful symphonic poem "Francesca da Rimini."

"Rach 3," as Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 is generally known, begins with a dramatic opening movement followed by a second movement that is also a thing of pure beauty. The finale is triumphant.

"It's my favorite concerto," Matsuev said during a telephone interview from his hotel room in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he and the orchestra would be playing that evening.

"I've played it many, many times. It's like my visiting card."

He first played the work at age 12 in his native city of Irkutsk, Siberia. He also played it while a student in Moscow. "It's a technical, passionate piece. And a hard piece to play. But Rachmaninoff for me is a special concert."

The family of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) obviously thought there was something special about Matsuev's interpretation of his works, since they invited him to record two recently discovered early compositions by the composer that had apparently been lost for many years. The Rachmaninoff Foundation arranged for Matsuev to make the recording on Rachmaninoff's piano at the Rachmaninoff residence, Villa Senar in Lucerne, Switzerland, last May. Matsuev said that the place was set up to resemble how it would have been when the great composer lived there.

"It was unbelievable. An incredible atmosphere," he said. The CD, "Unknown Rachmaninoff," was released in this country last week.

Asked if these previously unknown pieces are good, Matsuev said jokingly, "You'll have to get the CD."

Matsuev came across in the interview as engaging and with a sense of humor. He spoke with quite a heavy Russian accent and modestly apologized for his English - which was a lot better than this interviewer's Russian.

Born to musicians (his mother was a piano teacher and his father a pianist and composer), Matsuev showed his prodigious musical gifts early. At the age of 3 he reportedly played on the piano precisely and exactly a tune he had just heard on television.

He studied at the Central Music School in Moscow, and started winning competitions. His big break came when he won the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1998. His playing there has been described as "a sensation." Soon he was appearing with orchestras around the world. The Times of London wrote of one concert, "... the soloist in Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody was out to dazzle ... his technique is phenomenal: blistering passagework, steely chords. Perhaps he is the new Horowitz."

When he came to Mechanics Hall in 2001 he was only 25. On his return he is just 32.

Regarding where he now lives, Matsuev joked: "Airplanes." Actually, Paris and Moscow. But he is at neither address for any lengthy period of time. "My schedule is very crazy. I have 125 concerts a year. I know my schedule until 2011." Additionally, he is artistic director of two festivals in Russia - "Stars on Baikal" in Irkutsk and "Crescendo" in Moscow. The festivals present Russian soloists from all over the world with the best Russian orchestras.

Count the State Symphony of Russia as another Matsuev fave. "It is one of my favorite orchestras. A big Russian sound. This orchestra is one of the best in my life," he said.

Something else that Matsuev has a particular fondness for is jazz. Hence the jazz improvisation he gave at Mechanics Hall in 2001. The audience Monday can expect to hear some more if they demand an encore or two. "In my last encore I play jazz improvisations," he said.

"Jazz is my second love. Classical music is my wife, jazz is my girlfriend."

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State Symphony Orchestra of Russia with pianist Denis Matsuev

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St., Worcester

How much: $46 and $43

For more information: Call (508) 754-3231

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ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Denis Matsuev will perform Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 Monday at Mechanics Hall.
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 27, 2008
Words:849
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