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Chopin: Scherzos Nos 1-4 etc (Lisitsa)

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

Chopin
Scherzos Nos 1-4; Polonaise No. 7, ‘Polonaise-fantaisie etc
Valentina Lisitsa (piano)
Naïve V7700   64:10 mins

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It was with Chopin that Valentina Lisitsa launched herself as a YouTube star, when her 2007 set of the Etudes reached the number one classical spot on Amazon. Her career since then has been marked by both musical and political controversy, and much of the Lisitsa ‘phenomenon’ is encapsulated by this latest recording, spanning early to late Chopin. The disc’s opening is little short of grotesque for the way in which she launches herself at the Scherzo No. 1 in B minor – its first bars sounding brittle and taken as fast as possible, the haunting Polish carol that supplies contrast sounding slow and sentimentalised. Overall, the performance is incoherent, and the other Scherzos suffer similarly from Lisitsa’s erratic approach. She also can surprise, and in the Polonaise-Fantaisie finds – after a bad-tempered opening – something to say. The more straightforward Andante spianato et Grand Polonaise Brillante receives a spirited performance, and she makes impressively light work of the Fantaisie-Impromptu’s flurries.

Having been dropped by Decca, Lisitsa is now recording prolifically for Naïve: though artistic judgement can be questioned, the bad timing of this release is probably no one’s fault. Back in 2014 the pianist, who usually identifies as Ukrainian-American, was a vocal supporter of Putin’s invasion of Crimea, but in this recording’s booklet she stresses some Polish roots through her maternal grandfather. That hardly guarantees authentic Chopin, but she proves that there is no one way of playing this music.

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John Allison