CD Reviews: Chopin and Mendelssohn’s romanticism both powerful and refined

Janina Fialkowska (Julien Faugère photo).

Chopin Recital 2 (ATMA Classique)

Janina Fialkowska, Montreal’s gift to the world of pianism, plays with such clarity and ease that it might sometimes be difficult to appreciate the level of forceful artistic will and technical mastery involved.

This phenomenal new recording of Chopin — the composer with whom Fialkowska has become most closely associated — is a case in point. Here, she sets another example for the world how the music of Frédéric Chopin can be played with virtuosic fire as well as elegant grace.

Ever since she began recording again in 2005, following a full recovery from a cancerous tumour in her left arm that stopped her concert career, Fialkowska has been working her way through the much-adored repertoire of Poland’s most famous pianist-composer. This follow-up to her 2009 Chopin Recital disc has Fialkowska laying out a variety of solo pieces like a concert program, alternating the big and brash with more introspective pieces.

The full spectrum of Chopin’s styles is represented, including Waltzes, a Polonaise, a Ballade and Fantaisie, a Nocturme, a trio of Mazurkas and, to close the show, the magnificently virtuosic Scherzo No. 2, in B-flat minor, Op. 31.

There is never a single note or emphasis or contour out of place. The interpretations never sound cold or calculated, nor do they ever indulge in an excess of expressive effusion.

The audio quality of the recording is a marvel in itself. The Hamburg Steinway at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City is one of the country’s finest instruments, and the engineers managed to pick up its many colours, while also capturing the spaciousness of the hall. It sounds like hearing a piano recital live in a fine concert venue.

Fialkowska fully deserves the lifetime achievement award she will receive from the Governor General at a special gala event at the National Arts Centre, this coming weekend.

For all the details, including audio samples from this album, click here.

Mendelssohn, The Piano Trios (ArtistLed)

Cellist David Finckel, who recently announced that he is leaving the Emerson Quartet, has helped make a real gem of a goodbye present with the help of Emerson violinist Philip Setzer and Finckel’s wife, pianist Wu Han.

Like Fialkowska with her piano album, this informal trio of frequent collaborators has crafted a remarkable blend of sparkle and warmth as they paint vivid reproductions of Felix Mendelssohn’s two great Piano Trios, No. 1, in D minor, Op. 49, which dates from 1840, and No. 2, in C minor, Op. 66, from 1845.

Like Chopin’s music, these pieces of Mendelssohn’s are very popular and often recorded. But, as is the case with Fialkowska’s, this recording stands apart.

Contemporaries (with equally unfortunate early deaths) working in different parts of Europe in the first half of the 19th century, Chopin and Mendelssohn were raised on the symmetries and neat forms of Classicism, but found ways of mixing these with the grand expressive sweep of Romanticism.

For lovers of structure and counterpoint, Mendelssohn is the bigger treat, as the surface beauty hides no end of compositional invention and craft. This trio does justice to both aspects of the music, with a red-blooded verve that gives much of the music a special power.

There isn’t a dull moment here, and many instances of transcendent beauty.

For all the details, including audio samples, click here. Finckel and Han, who own their own label, ArtistLed, have also published this making-of video:

John Terauds


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