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CD Review

Frédéric Chopin

Recital 2

  • Polonaise #2 in E Flat minor, Op. 26, #2
  • Waltz #14 in E minor, Op. posth.
  • Waltz #3 "Valse brillante" in A minor, Op. 34, #2
  • Waltz #8 in A Flat Major, Op. 64, #3
  • Ballade #2 in F Major, Op. 38
  • Prelude in C Sharp minor, Op. 28 #10
  • Prelude in B Major, Op. 28 #11
  • Prelude in F Sharp Major, Op. 28 #13
  • Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49
  • Nocturne #16 in E Flat Major, Op. 55, #2
  • Mazurka #5 in B Flat Major, Op. 7, #1
  • Mazurka #50 "Notre temps" in A minor, Op. posth.
  • Mazurka #32 in C Sharp minor, Op. 50, #3
  • Scherzo #2 in B Flat minor, Op. 31
Janina Fialkowska, piano
Atma Classique ACD2-2666 76min
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This is superb Chopin playing! I missed the first recital disc in this series – my misfortune, to be sure. Not only is the pianism of Ms. Fialkowska here almost in a category by itself, but the program she selected is most interesting. So many Chopin recordings are all-waltzes or all-mazurkas or all-whatever, and while that kind of offering is entirely acceptable, it doesn't approach the variety and depth of imagination possessed by Chopin. Thus, on this disc you get perhaps Chopin's deepest Polonaise, the E flat minor (Op. 26, #2); one of his best light pieces, the Waltz in A Flat Major (Op. 64, #3); three charming preludes from Op. 28; a trio of Mazurkas from early and late in the composer's career; and such chestnuts as the Second Ballade and Second Scherzo.

Fialkowska's playing in all these works is consistently engaging, capturing the mixture of mystery and stateliness of the F minor Fantasie, the effervescence of such light works as the C Sharp minor Prelude (No. 10) and Op. 7 B Flat Major Mazurka, and the drama and angst of the E flat minor Polonaise. She has an innate sense for Chopin's lyricism, whether anguished or love-struck, and for the composer's unsettling mood swings. Try her powerful and passionate account of the B minor Scherzo, wherein she deftly conveys Chopin's multi-faceted emotional palette. She understands Chopin and delivers his music in rich sonorities and with many grades of nuance. It is no wonder Fialkowska is called Canada's First Lady of Chopin.

But to take assessment out of the realm of gender (where it doesn't belong), I would rank Fialkowska with the other great Chopin players of the past, including Rubinstein, Novaes, Cliburn, Arrau, Moravec, Perahia and a few others. Fialkowska's playing is that good. And it is all the more amazing considering her past struggles with a malignant tumor in her left arm, which for a time relegated to her playing left-hand only works (which she transcribed for the right hand), like the Prokofiev Fourth Piano Concerto. I assume there will be another issue in this series and I eagerly await its release. This is a highly entertaining disc, which also features vivid sound reproduction and very informative notes by Ms. Fialkowska.

Copyright © 2012 by Robert Cummings.