Polish pianist Konrad Skolarski (b. 1980) is a prizewinner in several international competitions and a former student of Pavel Gililov and Olga Rusina. His first CD, issued in 2005 on the Universal Poland label, was a collection of works by Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. If I can judge by the performances on this new CD on the Dux label, I would say Skolarski may well have a major career on the concert stage.
The version of the Rachmaninov Second Sonata that Skolarski chooses is the original, from 1913, and while it is always good to have a fine recording of it, the revised rendition (1931) is the better of the two. The earlier version is seven or eight minutes longer and sometimes seems a bit padded with dispensable diversions. At any rate, both versions are worthy of attention, and this account of the original is excellent. Van Cliburn's scorching 1960 recording of it has been a benchmark, but now Skolarski, with a more lush and relaxed approach, offers nearly as compelling a performance, and in much better sound. Where Cliburn turns in a white-heat rendition in terrible sound reproduction from a live Moscow performance, Skolarski lets the lyrical sections gush with passion and rich Romanticism, the whole captured in excellent sonics by Dux engineers. Skolarski plays the faster music well too, and overall shows he has the full measure of this challenging work.
In the three preludes from Op. 23 he is equally convincing. In #3 Skolarski's tempos are centrist and he tends to balance both a stately and melancholy sense to offer a splendid rendition of this fine piece. In #6 he phrases the music with senstivity in rich tones to deliver a meltingly beautiful account, while in #8 he turns up the passion with a restlessness in the accompanying runs, deftly imparting a youthful sort of longing. In the Elegy, #1 from the Op. 3 Morceaux de Fantasie, Skolarski paces the music very deliberately and comes across a little stiffly. Other pianists have offered more supple accounts, though Skolarski's effort here does effectively point up the darker, sadder elements here.
The Scriabin Op. 28 Fantasy in B minor is filled with passion as Skolarski points up the Romantic side of the music. Some might complain his dynamics are tilted a bit to the loud side, but he makes a good case for his more epic approach.
Skolarski's Prokofiev Second Sonata is well thought out, featuring wide-ranging dynamics and much subtle nuancing. Notice how his buildup in the first movement begins deliberately and with considerable restraint, and then so powerfully explodes at the climax. He adroitly conveys the humor and menace in the Scherzo, and his third movement Andante effectively captures the dark hypnotic character of the music while bringing out inner voices from the bass often suppressed in other performances. His finale is fleet, light and crisp, catching all the Prokofiev menace and wit to yield one of the finest accounts of this movement ever recorded. True, Skolarski sometimes tends to accent certain notes without sufficent purpose, but overall he is still very effective. While there have been excellent renditions of this work by Richter, Graffman, Glemser, Raekallio, Douglas and others, this one by Skolarski is a strong competitor with them. Again, the sound reproduction here and throughout the disc is first-rate. This is a splendidly played collection that should appeal to those with an interest in late 19th- and early 20th-century piano music.
Copyright © 2013, Robert Cummings