Janina Fialkowska ‘plunges right in’ to Chopin’s piano works

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: ATMA Classique
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin
WORKS: Polonaise No. 7 (Polonaise-fantaisie); Nocturne No. 3, Op. 9/3, Nocturne No. 5, Op. 15/2; Impromptu No. 3, Op. 51; Waltz No. 10, Op. 69/2; Waltz No. 5, Op. 42; Scherzo No. 4, Op. 54; Preludes Nos 14 and 15, Op. 28; Ballade No. 4, Op. 52
PERFORMER: Janina Fialkowska (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ACD2 2728

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Many pianists would save Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie for the end of a recital, but Janina Fialkowska bravely plunges right in. Maybe she is intent on making a particular statement, or maybe merely recalling her previous two Chopin recitals on the same Canadian label, both of which open with one of the composer’s Polonaises. But this piece, a late work, represents one of Chopin’s greatest interpretative challenges. The introduction is almost ‘symphonic’ – Liszt and even Wagner come to mind in the work’s rhapsodic freedom – yet as the title implies it is underpinned by a great Polish dance, and this is the work in which the exiled Chopin most of all seems to be bidding farewell to his country. Fialkowska’s performance, a little more polonaise than fantasy, is not the most successful part of her new recording.

But much else here gives great pleasure. No composer understood the piano better than Chopin, and no one can reasonably ever tire of listening to his works, even when a programme such as this seems a little haphazard in its combinations (repertoire choices presumably fitting around her previous releases). Many of Chopin’s major genres are represented here, but Fialkowska’s fine playing in particular illuminates the poetic Impromptu in G flat, and the Waltz in A flat, Op. 42, where the music whirls with deliciously heady humour. 

John Allison