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Four Fantasies
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Sonata No. 2 in G-sharp minor, Op. 19, ‘Sonata-Fantasie’ (1892-1897) [12:35]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49 (1841) [13:23]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasie in C major, Op. 17, ‘Durchaus Fantastisch’ (1836) [31:23]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27/2, ‘Quasi una Fantasia’ (1801) [15:29]
Anna Fedorova (piano)
rec. 2018, Muziekgebouw Eindhoven
Reviewed as a stereo DSD128 download from NativeDSD
Pdf booklet included
Note: album not available on SACD

Crowdfunding is a good way of helping soloists and ensembles to underwrite that breakthrough project, so it’s no surprise that Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova (b. 1990) has done just that for her Channel debut. As with her compatriot, Valentina Lisitsa, she’s also taken advantage of YouTube to get herself noticed. I see she’s won awards and has already made several recordings for other labels. One of those, Russian Masters, with cellist Jamal Aliyev, earned a qualified recommendation from Des Hutchinson. Brahms, Chopin, Franck and Liszt feature in her other albums.

There’s no shortage of stellar talent out there, and it’s been my privilege to hear some of the finest pianists born in the past forty years. High among them must be: Gábor Farkas, whose Liszt opera and song transcriptions impressed me so (Steinway); Stewart Goodyear, whose arrangement and execution of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker was one of my top picks for 2017 (Steinway); Kirill Gerstein, whose traversal of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies is on this year’s shortlist (Myrios, via NativeDSD); Lara Downes, whose album, America Again, was one of my Recordings of the Year for 2016 (Sono Luminus, also Native DSD); and Francesco Piemontesi, whose Années de pèlerinage: Suisse soon exhausted my supply of superlatives (Orfeo).

So, how does Fedorova fare in such daunting company? The title of this recital is Four Fantasies, and the pieces chosen certainly demand a degree of subtlety, insight and a wide expressive range. Her account of Scriabin’s Op. 19 ticks some of those boxes, with attractive phrasing and a full, weighty tone. But, despite her control of the notes, there’s little individuality in the performance as a whole. I do sense, though, that Russian repertoire could be her strong suit, and I’d like to hear her in Rachmaninov, for example. Alas, her response to Chopin’s Fantasie in F minor is even less appealing; she doesn’t shape the music nearly so well, and the result is, at times, curiously foursquare. Indeed, one only has to sample Robert Silverman’s Op. 49 (IsoMike, via NativeDSD) to realise how unyielding – even awkward – Fedorova feels here.

I suppose if I had to add another box it would have to be for idiom. And if it remains unticked in the Chopin it also does so in the Schumann. The music just doesn’t leap off the page, although Fedorova does make amends with a lovely account of the closing movement. So it’s clearly not that she lacks imagination, it’s just that, rather frustratingly, she seldom modulates out of the tethering key of mere accomplishment. This is true of her Beethoven, too. As it happens, I’d just been working my way through Stephen Kovacevich’s Warner box of all 32 sonatas, so his rendition of the ‘Moonlight’ was still fresh in my mind. And while it may seem unfair to compare an artist at the start of her career with one nearing the end of his, it’s a salutary reminder that these warhorses need something special if they are to make a lasting impression.

And while these pieces all contain the word ‘fantasy’ somewhere in their titles I’m really not sure that makes them natural bedfellows. All of which leaves me feeling a tad guilty for seeming so dismissive, especially where an up-and-coming talent is concerned. In Fedorova’s favour is the fact that she’s not one of those flashy young pianists, of which, depressingly, there are far too many. Her performances here may be disappointing, but I sense a serious artist at work, and, most important, one whose priorities are musical rather than brazenly self-promoting. That, to my mind, is a good foundation on which to build. As for the Channel sound, it’s very good, if not quite up to the exceptionally high standards of recent solo-piano recordings from the likes of Myrios and Sono Luminus.

Accomplished playing, undermined by expressive reticence; odd programme, too.

Dan Morgan

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