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Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 / Fialkowska, Tovey

Chopin / Fialkowska / Vancouver Sym Orch / Tovey
Release Date: 10/26/2010 
Label:  Atma Classique   Catalog #: 2643   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Janina Fialkowska
Conductor:  Bramwell Tovey
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vancouver Symphony
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Fialkowska is the real deal, and we should be the beneficiaries of her talent.


CHOPIN Piano Concertos: Nos. 1, 2 Janina Fialkowska (pn); Bramwell Tovey, cond; Vancouver SO ATMA ACD2 2643 (69:32) Live: Vancouver 3/6-8/2010

Janina Fialkowska perhaps has not had the major international career one might have predicted for her when she was a protégé Read more of Artur Rubinstein. This is a shame, for she is a pianist of considerable technique and much sensitivity. Perhaps like another Rubinstein protégé, Dubravka Tomsic, Fialkowska will become a favorite of connoisseurs. Certainly the present recording constitutes a step in that direction. Fialkowska offers Chopin concertos of flexibility and not a little speed. She plays with an unusually large but never self-regarding dynamic range. My first reaction to this recording was that Fialkowska had been influenced by the edge-of-your-seat renditions of Rubinstein and John Barbirolli from the 1930s. On revisiting those recordings, I found that Fialkowska is even freer in her playing than her mentor. She is helped by Bramwell Tovey’s superb skills as an accompanist. One of the best New York Philharmonic broadcasts of recent seasons featured Tovey accompanying Simone Dinnerstein in Liszt’s Second Concerto. Together, Fialkowska and Tovey produce Chopin of crackling excitement and real depth.

Fialkowska begins her program with the Second Concerto, the first to be composed. In the first movement, her statement of the first theme is robust, without a trace of sentimentality. The development section features very rhapsodic playing. Fialkowska’s interpretation of the second theme is simple and affecting. The subsequent passagework is dance-like, with a touch of the mazurka. The return of the first theme offers a beautiful duet with the bassoon. In the second movement, the main them is characterized by pensiveness and contemplation, with hints at times of agitation and unease. Fialkowska’s playing over the string tremolo section feels highly acute psychologically. The return of the main theme offers more beautiful playing from the bassoon. Fialkowska opens the last movement with a dance rhythm like a polonaise. This movement features much understated virtuosity.

The First Concerto begins with a truly gorgeous orchestral tutti, featuring especially lovely playing from the strings. A real bel canto feel is established in the orchestra’s phrasing. With Fialkowska’s entrance, we are in psychologically distressed, even depressed, territory. Then the second theme gives off an aura that is soothing, even healing. It appears to come out of a Jane Austen world. The music then resolves into passagework of great excitement. The second movement resembles an extended nocturne, lyrical but never precious. A brief story-like passage intrudes, but the nocturnal atmosphere soon returns. The influence of John Field hovers over this movement. The finale is a real virtuoso romp, a pianistic showpiece. Even the quiet, mazurka-like B section gives the soloist a chance to show off her balletic grace. Fialkowska plays this movement like Gottschalk interpreting Chopin, which is not a bad thing.

The sound engineering is excellent, unusually so for a live recording. There is very little noise from the audience, although applause after each concerto has been retained. Recently I have been recommending Annerose Schmidt and Janne Mertanen’s CDs of the concertos. I find, however, that I like Fialkowska’s recording better each time I hear it. It very well may become one of my favorites. If you are willing to search for out-of-print CDs, I am considerably fond of Géza Anda in the First Concerto and of the stereo version of the Second by Witold Malcuzynski. It would be wonderful if Janina Fialkowska’s recording represented a kind of breakthrough moment for her career. Maybe the big-league concert world is too besotted with photogenic young people to give an artist like Fialkowska her due. That would be sad, for Fialkowska is the real deal, and we should be the beneficiaries of her talent.

FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 1 in E minor, B 53/Op. 11 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Janina Fialkowska (Piano)
Conductor:  Bramwell Tovey
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vancouver Symphony
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1830; Germany 
Concerto for Piano no 2 in F minor, B 43/Op. 21 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Janina Fialkowska (Piano)
Conductor:  Bramwell Tovey
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vancouver Symphony
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829-1830; Poland 

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