Chopin, Schumann: Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor; Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53

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COMPOSERS: Chopin,Schumann
LABELS: EMI Debut
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor; Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53
PERFORMER: Alex Slobodyanik (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDZ 5 73500 2
For a musician, ‘cultivated’ can be a double-edged compliment. There’s an implication of detachment – that the player is holding the music at arm’s length rather than allowing himself to become personally involved. But young Ryssian Alex Slobodyanik is a pianist who combines cultivation with deep feeling. The slow movement of the Chopin B minor Sonata is both ravishingly refined and intimately expressive – this is playing that compels admiration, but at the same time you feel the music is telling you something.

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At 24, Slobodyanik is already master of the smooth, singing legato. There are no hard or sharp edges. Perhaps that isn’t always a virtue. I could have done with just a little of Martha Argerich’s devilish, incisive brilliance (as in her stupendous 1967 DG recording) in the Sonata’s finale. But the A flat Polonaise is an unqualified triumph, an epic performance – such a world of colour and emotion seems to be concentrated into a mere six-and-a-half minutes. By contrast, Slobodyanik’s Schumann is sometimes strangely withdrawn. His technical command is extraordinary – as for instance in the famous ‘disappearing’ chord at the end of Papillons (starting at the bottom, the notes fall silent one by one). But he doesn’t quite have the measure of Schumann’s subtle or quirky humour; no one understood that better than Alfred Cortot, whose classic Kinderszenen is available in an excellently transferred two-CD Music and Arts set. But Slobodyanik’s Schumann can still be moving, not least in the final movement of Kinderszenen, ‘The Poet Speaks’ – speak he certainly does. Altogether an impressive debut. Stephen Johnson