CD: Chopin: Sonata No 2; Scherzos

Also reviewed: Chopin: Impromptus and Polonaises, Kissin

Released in close proximity, these two Chopin recitals, each featuring one of today's cult pianists, almost inevitably invite comparison, even though their programmes don't overlap and their aims are very different. Evgeny Kissin, in a live performance at the Verbier festival in 2004, flanks the Impromptus with four of Chopin's grandest Polonaises. Simon Trpceski, meanwhile, prefaces the Scherzos with the Second Sonata. Neither disc presents Chopin as a Romantic dreamer; their principal point in common is an emphasis on his compositional muscularity.

Kissin's disc is very much a warts-and-all affair. It's on the short side, and too much of its 56 minutes is taken up by applause. There's persistent audience coughing, and you can also hear Kissin thumping as he pedals. The main drawback, however, is a close, glaring recording, which tends to emphasise Kissin's principal flaw, namely his relative narrowness of dynamic range. His Chopin is big-boned, monumental and percussive: this should not, in itself, be a problem, but too much of this disc plays itself out at varying degrees of loudness, which becomes wearing. Some of it still impresses, however. His hammering approach to the C minor Polonaise, Op 40 No 2, ideally suits its mood of protest at Russian oppression of Polish nationalism. Best of all is the G flat Impromptu, Op 51: the piece forces him to play with quiet delicacy, something he can clearly do when he needs to, and should certainly do more often.

Given Trpceski's reputation for sensitivity, meanwhile, it comes as something of a surprise to discover that his Chopin is so extrovert. The Scherzos dazzle. The Sonata is often thrilling, wild and tumultuous. Throughout, you are aware of a formidable intelligence at work, rethinking each piece from scratch, while his sense of dynamic control is marvellously acute. The Scherzos' plunges into reflective quiet are breathtaking and moving. His deployment of infinitely subtle shades of volume in the Sonata's funeral march leads to a relentless intensity of mood. An exceptionally fine recital, fabulously played.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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