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Romantic Virtuoso Masterpieces

Album Summary

>Beethoven, Ludwig van : Sonata for Piano no 21 in C major, Op. 53 "Waldstein"
>Chopin, Frédéric : Ballade for Piano no 1 in G minor, B 66/Op. 23
>Chopin, Frédéric : Fantasy-Impromptu for piano in C sharp minor, Op. 66, CT. 46
>Schumann, Robert : Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26
>Liszt, Franz : Étude d'exécution transcendante no 10 in F minor
>Liszt, Franz : Liebestraume for Piano, S 541
>Scriabin, Alexander : Etudes (12) for Piano, Op. 8
Performer Composers
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Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Sean Swinney Studios, New York, NY (05/25/2009).



Reviews

Review in Fanfare by Jerry Dubins
I understand that an interview with Sophia Agranovich appears elsewhere in this issue, so I will dispense with the usual biographical detail which I assume is covered there. The collection of pieces assembled on this disc under the umbrella of Romantic Virtuoso Masterpieces is a fairly loose fitting description of the selected items, for some of them, like Liszts famous Liebestraume, are arguably not virtuoso in the sense of pieces written with a mind to dazzle audiences and knock-em-dead; while others, like the two-minute-long Intermezzo from Schumanns Faschingsschwank aus Wien, beautiful as it is, is probably not a masterpiece, at least not in the way Beethovens Waldstein Sonata is. The one thing that all of these numbers can be said to have in common, however, is that they are Romantic, even the Beethoven which was completed in 1804 and which some might argue still belongs to the Classical period.
Pianophiles may be more familiar with Sophia Agranovich than I was when I received this CD for review, but I guarantee that she will not only be familiar, she will be unforgettable,once you hear her play. Agranovichs tempo in the first movement of the Waldstein may not be the fastest on record, but its not her speed as velocity that impresses, its the precision and clarity of her finger work. Also astonishing is her dynamic range breadth which ranges from the most hushed pp to the most thundering ff, and her ability to control the gradations of her crescendos and decrescendos to everything in between so that the extremes are always arrived at naturally. In this, she has the assistance of Steinway grand, recording engineer Sean Swinney, and the excellent acoustics of Sean Swinney Studios in New York. And yes, for those who insist on knowing, Agranovich observes the first movement exposition repeat. Her last movement, for me, doesnt quite capture the otherworldly magic of those major-minor juxtapositions in the opening bars the way Kempff, Gilels, and Pollini, do, but its no small compliment to be compared to such keyboard giants.
Longtime readers know by now that Chopin and I have an uneasy relationship. Ive gone to couples counseling with a recent Chopin recording or two that have come my way, but so far the interventions have been only partially successful. Agranovichs attempt with her G-Minor Ballade and Fantasie-Impromptu may be the closest thing Ive yet encountered to effective therapy and hopefully a permanent cure. For once, someone makes this music come alive for me in a way that excites instead of depresses me. The pianists technique is thrilling, but its the boldness of her conceptionher refusal to feminize the musicand the extraordinary dramatic urgency she brings to these pieces through grand Romantic gesturesprobably to a greater degree than Chopin himself could or would have attempted on his rard or Pleyel pianothat leaves one with the strongest impression of Agranovichs playing.
Liszt, of course, wouldnt have shied away from flamboyant virtuosity; the very title of his Transcendental Etudes tells us that, their transcendentalism having nothing to do with the art of the occult but referring to the theoretical science of the limits of the technically and physically possible in keyboard execution. The Tenth Etude from the set is the most famous and most often played. Among its notorious difficulties, and I quote, are the right hand ascending the keyboard in swiftness using only the thumb, third, and fourth fingers; the cramped spacing of hands; and the rapid left-hand arpeggios and passagework which, at all times, must allow the melody to emerge. If any of this presents even the slightest challenge to Agranovich, youd never know it. She seems to blaze through the piece without breaking a sweat.
What does one say about Liszts sentimental A-Major Liebestraume. Thanks to the heartstrings-pulling 196970 movie, Lost in the Desert, about a boy and his dog struggling for survival, in which Liszts Liebestraume is featured, the piece has become an even more embarrassing clich, I think, than the Adagietto from Mahlers Fifth Symphony, thanks to the film score from Death in Venice. Too bad, really, for neither composer had anything to do with the films that appropriated their music and both pieces, especially Mahlers Adagietto, are quite memorable works. It takes someone like Agranovich to play Liszts Liebestraume in a way that makes us forget such sentimentalized cinematic exploitations and to remind us of just how beautiful the music is on its own terms.
The Intermezzo from Schumanns Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Carnival Scenes from Vienna) is the fourth number in the set of five pieces that make up the work. Its interesting that Schumann should have cast the Intermezzo in the remote key of E Minor, because with its running left-hand accompaniment and arching, lyrical melody in the right hand, Ive always wondered if Schumann didnt have in mind Schuberts gorgeous Impromptu in G Major, E Minors six-flat relative. Agranovichs reading of the piece is, in a word, poetic.
For those not up on their Scriabinand I admit to only recently coming around to some of his solo piano piecesthe D-Minor Etude, like the Liszt Transcendental Etude on the disc, is a study in the art of what is possible. Its a treacherously difficult exercise involving leaps as large as elevenths with both hands playing mostly in octaves. An early Scriabin work (1894), melodically, harmonically, and stylistically the Etude is still very much a product of the composers Chopin period, so if youre not a Scriabin maven, you could conceivably mistake the piece for an Etude by Chopin, or possibly Liszt or even Alkan.
How she does it I dont know, but Sophia Agranovichs alchemy of mind-bending technical prowess and heart-melting emotional expressivity add up to one of the most glorious piano recitals this side of Elysium. Urgently recommended.



Submitted on 09/25/15 by by Lynn Ren Bayley, Fanfare 
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Works Details

>Beethoven, Ludwig van : Sonata for Piano no 21 in C major, Op. 53 "Waldstein"
  • Performer: Sophia Agranovich (Piano)
  • Running Time: 24 min. 7 sec.
  • Period Time: Classical
  • Written: 1803-1804

>Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849) : Ballade for Piano no 1 in G minor, B 66/Op. 23
  • Performer: Sophia Agranovich (Piano)
  • Running Time: 9 min. 35 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1831

>Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849) : Fantasy-Impromptu for piano in C sharp minor, Op. 66, CT. 46
  • Performer: Sophia Agranovich (Piano)
  • Running Time: 5 min. 18 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1834

>Schumann, Robert : Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26 :: Intermezzo
  • Performer: Sophia Agranovich (Piano)
  • Running Time: 2 min. 14 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1839

>Liszt, Franz : Étude d'exécution transcendante no 10 in F minor
  • Performer: Sophia Agranovich (Piano)
  • Running Time: 5 min. 7 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1851

>Liszt, Franz : Liebesträume for Piano, S 541
  • Performer: Sophia Agranovich (Piano)
  • Running Time: 4 min. 35 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1843-1850

>Scriabin, Alexander : Etudes (12) for Piano, Op. 8
  • Performer: Sophia Agranovich (Piano)
  • Running Time: 2 min. 48 sec.
  • Period Time: Post Romantic
  • Written: 1894