Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2

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WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Janina Fialkowska (piano); Vancouver SO/Bramwell Tovey


Janina Fialkowska must be heartily sick of being linked in the critical and public imagination with her mentor and early champion Arthur Rubinstein. In many ways, however, she has only herself to blame. Not because she flexes the connection (she doesn’t), but because her playing, particularly in recent years, breathes more than a little of the same air, both expressively and pianistically. She exaggerates nothing. Her playing is notable for its balance, its sense of proportion and naturalness. 

Her first recording of these works was in the chamber version, neatly circumventing the usual charges against Chopin’s lacklustre orchestration and subtly emphasising his Mozartian leanings. This return visit reflects the grandiosity of the orchestral versions but at no time do either Fialkowska or Bramwell Tovey impose on the music an unwarranted Brahmsian weight. The approach is robustly classical, and effortlessly demonstrates that size in music is not necessarily measured in loudness or duration. It can reside in the ‘reach’ of the phrasing, the breadth of the harmonic rhythm. 


Not that Fialkowska lacks power. Far from it. But like Chopin himself she never forces the sound. Her tonal palette is rich, and richly varied, but she never indulges it for its own sake. On the whole, these splendid, earthy, vital performances make for rewarding listening. Jeremy Siepmann