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CD Review

Frédéric Chopin

Koch-Schwann 3-1430

The Scherzos

  • The Four Scherzos
  • Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49
  • Polonaise in C Sharp minor, Op. 26/1
  • Grande valse brillante in F Major, Op. 34/3
Anna Gourari, piano
Koch-Schwann 3-1430-2 DDD 63:29
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Young Anna Gourari (she was born in 1972 in Kazan, Russia) already has been compared to Martha Argerich. (Argerich, in fact, was one of the judges at the first Clara Schumann Competition in Düsseldorf, where Gourari made her initial splash on the international scene.) The comparison is apt, yet not even Argerich showed this much temperament in her early recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. In this modern era of safe pianism, Gourari takes exciting chances. Not everything she does works, but when so much of it does, who cares?

Gourari is at her best in the four Scherzos. In the first Scherzo, one is immediately impressed by the strength of her technique. Next, one notes the range of her dynamics – perhaps a bit preciously exaggerated at times – and her liking for dramatic pauses and alterations of tempo. Other pianists might imitate her and sound fussy. Because Gourari is a first-class musician, however, the architecture of the music takes precedence, and it is a rare pianist who can shape this music as well as she does. In the central section (derived from a Polish Christmas carol), Gourari's playing turns so intimate that she seems to be playing for herself alone; the listener eavesdrops in awe. When she returns to the opening music, the effect provokes terror. The second Scherzo is fiery, and Gourari is the soul of Romanticism, which some (mistakenly, I feel) will mistake for self-indulgence. She daringly slackens the tempo in the central section. She also is unafraid to be generous with the pedal, yet clarity isn't sacrificed. Impressively solid octave passages dominate the third Scherzo. The gossamer figurations in the Trios are handled with great delicacy, although not quite with the filigree of Richter. For the second Trio, Gourari again drops the tempo down, and in so doing, tells us something new about the music. Finally, in the last of the four Scherzos, Gourari purrs more than she thunders. She is at home with the blithe mood of the music, yet the climax thunders impressively. Her F-minor Fantaisie is not as remarkable. She also plays this work with an appreciation for its poetry and contrasts, but not necessarily for its spontaneity. In the Polonaise, Gourari raps out the opening chords defiantly, and the main melody is shaped with both arrogance and tenderness. The middle section is dreamy but fresh. The Grande valse brillante ends the disc as a crowd-pleasing encore. Gourari plays it very quickly indeed, and this is not a waltz anyone could dance to. It demonstrates how agile and even her touch is, and, with no pounding, how strong she is too.

The engineering is excellent on this CD – kudos to producer Wilhelm Meister and Balance Engineer Peter Jütte for realistic piano sound. Bavarian Radio Studio 2 was the recording locale. Jürgen Otten's annotations are informative, original, and well written.

It should be said that Gourari has something else going for her: she is photogenic. Film director Werner Herzog has asked her to play the female lead in his new movie Invincible. In it, she plays a pianist. Remarkable! If she acts as well as she plays, Gourari will take home an Academy Award.

Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle

Trumpet