Klavier Romantik - Tsintsabadze
Ars Produktion ARS 38 303
Classical - Instrumental
Schumann: Symphonic Etudes
Brahms: 3 Intermezzi, Op. 117
Chopin: Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante
Shorena Tsintsabadze, piano
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 9, 2020
With regular intervals, specialised magazines publish lists like: Todays Ten Best Pianists; The 25 Most Memorable Pianists of all Times, and so on. All of them in an understandably subjective manner. Is it important to be listed? Yes. Recordings with any of these sell well and having a well-known soloist on the programme means a well-filled Concert Hall. Does it mean that these pianists (or any other soloist for that matter) are, indeed, the best? Not necessarily. These are the ones magazines and newspapers write about, the ones played on the radio or shown on TV. Most of the time based on labels with large PR and advertising budgets to reach out to the media in support. During the years I’ve been reviewing, I have come across several pianists who are just as good as some of the ’listed’, had they have had or be given a chance to be ‘plugged’ similarly. Do we have to conclude that there are many more good ones than meets the ear? Yes. At least I do.
The good news is that some independent quality labels make an effort to help young and coming talent to spread their wings. ARS Produktion, IMCA label of the year 2019, is one of them. And this time they have recorded a pianist I had not heard of before and who deserves to become more widely known than she already is from her debut release (Naxos, Lyapunov piano concerti), as well as in her home country Georgia. Her name? Shorena Tsintsabadze.
I’ve put her to the test in comparison with ‘Names’. In Schumann’s Les Études symphoniques with Mikhail Pletnev (DGG), in Brahms’ Three Intermezzi with Elizabeth Leonskaja (MDG), and Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Polonaise Brillante with Emanuel Ax (Sony). The results were an ear-opener.
Although Schumann’s Études may be common currency for most, I would nonetheless urge them to read the detailed information in the liner notes about its conception and frequent changes. It will also clarify one of the advantages of this release, getting with 18 variations and the five Opus Posthume included, as close as possible to the original. Pletnev’s, on the other hand, is a mixture of the various versions. Without questioning his choice, it did make direct track comparison something of a headache to me.
Living up to modern ideas about human equality, I was pleased to note that Tsintsabadze’s reading is at least as masculine as Pletnev’s. Two Russian School pianists one might say. In comparison, she takes a somewhat leisurely pace without, however, surrendering any of the called for dynamics, nor of the required technical agility. In the final analysis, Pletnev may be the more experienced pianist, setting down an excellent Études symphoniques, but I was struck by Tsintsabadze’s catchy musicality. The fact that her Bechstein came out more powerful than Pletnev’s Steinway, is a matter of older recording technique or taste, and therefore immaterial as to the musical comparison, but still a factor for consideration.
Moving to the “three lullabies for my sorrows” as Brahms once called his Three Intermezzi Op. 117, we enter a different territory. These ‘end of life’ compositions call for feeling and understanding. I hold Elizabeth Leonskaja in high regard, but here she does not entirely convince. Is it the quality of the grand or the less than optimal recording or both? Hard to say, but my choice is unequivocally for Tsintsabadze’s richly poetical reading, more in line with, say, Jonathan Plowright (BIS).
That Emanuel Ax figures high on anyone's best list is stating the obvious, yet his interpretation of Andante Spianato et Polonaise Brillante as a filler to a splendid account of Chopin’s second piano concerto comes as a deception. His playing of the Andante Spianato is perfect, but his interpretation is lackluster, and the same applies, albeit less strikingly so, to the concert version of the Polonaise Brillante. For that reason, I took Janusz Olejniczak of the shelf. His Andante Spianato et Polonaise Brillante, like Tsintsabadze’s both on the piano, is part of The Complete Chopin Edition (Wydanie Narodowe National Edition) Vol. 4. Not as well-known as Ax, but all the same a 6th prize-winner at the 1970 International Chopin Piano Competition, his account is exemplary and hard to match.
And for those who think that is not fair to compare Tsintsabadze with this Polish warhorse, I can assure discerning Chopin lovers that her reading is much closer to that of Olejniczak than that of Ax, whilst the recording is superior. Playing Chopin is not only a matter of technique, it is also something of an elusive nature that makes Chopin sound like Chopin. Tsintsabadze has it.
With this romantic recital, she knocks passionately at the door of fame.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
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