Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor; Andante spianato; Grande polonaise brillante

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Pro Piano
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor; Andante spianato; Grande polonaise brillante
PERFORMER: Katia Skanavi (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PPR 224522
Katia Skanavi came third in the 1989 Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition in Paris; but she also walked off with the Audience Prize, and on the basis of this recital it’s not hard to see why. Her playing has a natural pianism combined with a warmth which enables her to make Chopin’s little-known, and rather inconsequential, variations on Ferdinand Hérold’s ‘Je vends des scapulaires’ into something more than just a curiosity. Her innate lyricism stands her in good stead, too, in the famous Berceuse, which is quite beautifully sustained. Not quite on the same level of achievement, it seems to me, are the first two movements of the ‘Funeral March’ Sonata, Op. 35 – both played at an impulsively fast speed (and with the ‘hairpin’ dynamics near the start of the opening Allegro rather exaggerated) which undermines the clarity and elegance of Chopin’s writing. It is true, though, that Skanavi relaxes the tempo to good effect in the opening movement’s second subject, and that she is impressive in both the funeral march and the whirlwind finale.

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As for alternative versions of the Sonata, Rachmaninoff’s classic account (currently available in the Philips ‘Great Pianists of the Century’ series) is unlikely to be surpassed, though it is nothing if not idiosyncratic. Anyone looking for a fine modern recording should investigate Mitsuko Uchida’s characteristically intelligent and thoughtful performance: the tempo relationship between the slow introduction and the Allegro for once correctly calculated (and the introduction convincingly included again in the repeat), and the funeral march grief-laden and utterly compelling. Misha Donat