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CHOPIN Introduction and Variations in B flat on 'Je vends des scapulaires' from Hérold's Ludovic, Op. 12. Andante spianato and Grand polonaise in E flat, Op. 22. Berceuse in D flat, Op. 57. Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. Posth. Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35.

Katia Skanavi (piano).
ProPiano Records PPR224522 (full price, 55 minutes).
Producers Chitose Okashiro, Ricard de La Rosa.
Engineer Carl Talbot. Date June 3rd-4th, 1998. Purchase from Crotchet £12.95

Sonata No. 2:
Horowitz (RCA) (1950) GD60376

Katia Skanavi offers a Chopin recital of searing temperament and rich sonority, recorded on a finely prepared Hamburg Steinway and in startlingly lifelike sound by ProPiano. Now 29, Skanavi has suffered a number of near misses at competitions - most recently the Tenth Van Cliburn in Fort Worth, where the jury plumped for the safer playing of Jon Nakamatsu, much to the consternation of many audience members - but has nevertheless built up an impressive concert career.

The rarely-heard Variations on 'Je vends des scapulaires' from Hérold's Ludovic (once a favourite of Cziffra's) sparkle with a coquettish wit; Skanavi gives the impression that the music could dart fancifully in any direction at any moment, yet the control remains resolute. The Andante spianato is hushed and highly concentrated - the unusual degree of rubato Skanavi allows the right hand's flourishes brings variety without breaking the undulating flow - before the Grande polonaise takes off exuberantly at a commanding clip, the operatic high jinks projected with flair and a strutting confidence. The Berceuse, by contrast, occupies an ethereal inner world - in Skanavi's hands it is a lullaby that somehow mixes naivety with a bewitching sophistication. In spite of a few mis-weightings (a similar story in the central section of the Funeral March movement of the Sonata), the control of pianissimo tone is often mesmerizing - Skanavi can shade down phrases so that she seems to be evoking no more than shadows of notes. The C sharp minor Nocturne is almost too still for its own good, but then the Second Sonata takes off, after the ominous opening declamation, with huge propulsive energy, catapulting the listener into the first subject and beyond with dynamic and rhythmic abandon. Although climaxes sometimes fail to register their full impact (so much pulsating excitement having already been created along the way), there is no doubt that playing of such sweep - with perceptive voicing, colouring and pedalling to match - injects this much-heard work with a daring, sometimes transforming shot of adrenaline. For Skanavi, the movements are clearly not 'four of Chopin's most unruly children under one roof' (in Schumann's words), but unified via a shared inspiration in the dark textures, harmonies and anguish of the Marche funèbre. The demonica at times recalls the gothic swagger and malevolence of Horowitz's first account on RCA, if not its desperate ferocity. Periodically it becomes evident, however, that Skanavi's responses where poetry and meditation are called for are not quite as exceptional or as individual as those born of her tactile engagement with rampant octaves, double notes and leaps, and the middle sections of the second and third movements ring hollow amid the powerful (at times theatrical) drama that surrounds them. The finale flickers menacingly before a sudden infernal gust leads to the appearance of the closing B flat minor chord.

Some listeners will doubtless find Skanavi's approach as wilful and slick as others will find it involving and tempestuous, but playing of such accomplishment and vivid character demands to be heard.


Michael Glover

 This review will appear in the June issue of  INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW


Michael Glover

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