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Acte Prealable Polish CDs

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Sonata no.2 in B flat minor, op.36 (1913/1931) [16:44]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Wedding March and Variations (arr. Liszt arr. Vladimir Horowitz) [6:36]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Andante Spianato - Grande Polonaise Brillante, op.22 [12:35]
Scherzo no.4, op.54 [10:12]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition [31:02]
Krystian Tkaczewski (piano)
rec. Studio S1, Polish Radio, Warsaw, 25-26 July 2012.
ACTE PREALABLE AP0269 [77:20]

Polish pianist Krystian Tkaczewski has assembled a pretty mainstream programme for this recording, a factor that will mitigate against voluminous sales in a long-since overcrowded marketplace for his composers of choice. Unfortunately for him, Lang Lang's Rachmaninov (DG 4792236) and Chopin (Sony 88725449132) and Steven Osborne's Mussorgsky (Hyperion CDA67896) are but two of several recent releases that are likely to have satisfied most listeners' urges for some time ahead.
 
That is a pity, because Tkaczewski, now in his thirties, is a very decent pianist. He may look rather stressed on the hardly-flattering cover photo, but as soon as he starts playing the opening Rachmaninov Sonata the depth of his musical expressiveness and technical poise becomes clear. He does actually have much less competition for the Mendelssohn/Liszt hybrid work, made into a typical party-piece by Vladimir Horowitz who, through his friendship with Rachmaninov and his somewhat egotistical monkeying with Chopin and Mussorgsky, haunts Tkaczewski's recital from beginning to end. Yet the latter eschews his twirling bow-tie approach in favour of a performance that radiates a thoughtful, elegant sobriety more befitting Mendelssohn or indeed Liszt than Horowitz. His Sonata and Pictures are especially satisfying, compendia of easy phrasing and understated virtuosity.
 
The glossy booklet notes offer plenty in the way of detail on the programme, including Horowitz's involvement. Acte Préalable have always seemed reluctant to use native-English translators, but this time the results are not at all bad. The linguistic curiosities that do pepper the text seem to come primarily from annotator Łukasz Kaczmarek, whose peccadillos include much bandying of pufferies like "genius" and 'extraordinar(il)y', making use of stiff or archaic formulations ("the revised version we are going to hear on the record") and relying heavily on repetition - Rachmaninov's work, for example, is at every mention the 'Piano Sonata no.2 in B flat minor op.36'. Tkaczewski's biography is also informative, but not in a good way, with bromides ("hailed as 'Polish virtuoso'"), mistranslations ("highly regarded as the clinician") and space-filling lists ranging from obscure piano awards to the naming of every last one of the 28 countries the soloist has "concertized on".
 
The running time is especially generous, however and audio is first-class. All in all this is a CD that stands out artistically and technically more than it can ever hope to do as just another product in a shop window.
 
Byzantion
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Masterwork Index: Pictures at an Exhibition