Prize-winner’s bombardment

Andrey Gugnin

Camberwell Grammar School Performing Arts Centre

Tuesday August 29

                                   Andrey Gugnin

Coming to the end of a packed cross-country tour that would cripple most performers, the Sydney International Piano Competition winner for 2016 made his solitary Melbourne appearance at a lavishly appointed auditorium in the city’s private school eastern suburbs belt.   Camberwell Boys Grammar has enjoyed a building acceleration over the past few decades and its Performing Arts Centre auditorium holds a grandiose attractiveness, including an imposing front-of-house space, fairly comfortable conditions for its audiences, and a wide stage which, for this event, had a reflecting screen behind the performer – the sort of thing you see at Selby & Friends recitals or pretty much everything at the Australian National Academy of Music.

The hall also boasts a thick carpet that covers the foyer steps and the interior, with an emasculating loss of resonance as a consequence.  Not that you can do much else in an environment where schoolboys are the natural inhabitants, along with their innate propensities for noise-making.  Not only did Gugnin have to make allowances for a muffling acoustic, but also he was saddled with an uneven instrument –  a Fazioli grand?  –   that showed at its best in this night’s action-packed second half rather than in the staid Bach-and-Schubert opening gambits where the player’s softer passages held little textural interest.  A pity that we couldn’t have heard the school’s own Steinway, but then that company wasn’t sponsoring this tour.

Tuesday found Gugnin working through the larger of the two programs he has been taking on tour, opening with the Bach Adagio in G Major, a transcription for keyboard of the first movement from the composer’s C Major Sonata for solo violin.  This is a worthy settling-down piece, two pages’ worth of little activity that winds up on a dominant chord which took this particular audience by surprise, so that Gugnin was able to move without a ripple into the Schubert D Major Sonata.

Despite the handicap of his operating conditions, the prize-winner made a good deal out of this experience.  He followed an individual path across all four movements, finding a satisfying dynamic interplay across the score by refraining from the over-histrionic, so that the outer movements came across as restrained in temperament, more consistent in atmosphere than you usually hear from young interpreters.  For instance, the usual shift at the Un poco piu lento passages conveyed its message by relying on the modulatory jump in each case, rather than by confronting the listener with a pounding fortissimo.

For the concluding Rondo, Gugnin demonstrated a welcome insight, keeping the temperature low even when the movement reached its higher stages of ferment – the long central G Major episode – and not making a meal of the juxtaposed changes in dynamic enunciation.  Just as impressive work came at the final pages when the composer decorates his perky theme with chains of irrepressible semiquavers, right up to the simple, moving last three bars.   Gugnin showed his grasp of this movement, one that pivots on a touching combination of fluency and unaffected charm, a duality you find in the countryside Schubert, his personality not over-awed by his great contemporary.

Certain sections of the central Con moto pages were carried out with fine control, but here the instrument/hall combination made itself most prominent.  Both opening and closing passages are muted and the pianist was unable to give them room to breathe as his sound deteriorated quickly.  The action-packed middle section fared a good deal better, treated with an impressive impetus but – a trademark of this reading – not hammered home in the two-hands full chord punctuating exclamations.  If Gugnin reserved his power for the Allegro vivace, you could understand why: the scherzo itself has a remarkable buoyancy that surges out at the double-bar half-way through where the pianist blazed into action, pulling back for the simplicity of the movement’s trio, giving here an object lesson in maintaining a melody’s distinctive path over a relentlessly full chordal support.

The night’s second half was almost completely all-Russian, beginning with Shostakovich’s Sonata No. 1 of 1926, a highly impressive piece that is rarely heard because of its relentless physical demands and the unremitting percussive dissonance of its processes.  Here, Gugnin exploded into action with a fierce energy that made a brilliant apologia for a score basically unconcerned with its own portability, one of the young composer’s works that shows no signs of the orthodoxy of coming decades.

Michael Kieran Harvey featured as the odd man out in this recital’s second half, his G-Spot Tornado making a welcome appearance.  Extracted from the Australian composer/pianist’s 48 Fugues for Frank Zappa (which is, in fact, nothing of the sort), the piece is, after a portentous opening apostrophe, a moto perpetuo conceived as a dazzling and brilliantly conceived homage to Zappa’s original.  Gugnin made an excellent business of this toccata, at ease with its syncopations and the simple melody that flashes across the hectic, unstoppable accompaniment.  Although it lacked something of Harvey’s own flamboyance, this version sustained its interpretative grip and burbling effervescence.

Leonid Desyatnikov is not a name that you come across often, if at all.  Born in the Ukraine, he made his name as a film-music composer, then moved to the opera stage and theatre, providing a wealth of incidental music.  Gugnin presented his Reminiscences of the Theatre, seven characteristic pieces that could have come from any minor early 20th century French composer.  None of these bagatelles presented technical challenges similar to those of the two preceding works, but they had an agreable charm, the faster movements very much indebted to bitonality  –  that never-failing gift from Stravinsky to his countrymen.  As well as mainstream material, Gugnin has recorded some recherche Russian material – Arno Babadjanian’s Six Pictures, for instance, alongside both Shostakovich piano concertos  –  but this set of Reminiscences comes pretty close to salon music, albeit a touch more spiky than the usual run.

To end his program, the pianist played the Trois mouvements de Petrouchka, Stravinsky’s 1921 deconstruction of his own ballet for the delectation of Arthur Rubinstein.  Here, Gugnin produced a remarkable demonstration of intelligent virtuosity, the Danse russe much more telling than the customary percussive battering-ram but packed with deftly articulated detail, the player keeping a constant weather-eye out for the occasional close-to-swamped melody.  Both this set of pages and the following Chez Petrouchka came close to ideal in this pianist’s vision, the outlines lucid with some remarkable vaults across the keyboard that helped to explain why this pianist had won quite a few international competitions before he landed in Sydney.

Gugnin made a fine start on the finale, La semaine grasse, notable for a shimmering ripple imitating the string texture that features at the opening to this scene.  The trouble with the piece is that there is too much; where the orchestra offers textural change in the original ballet, this re-imagining preserves too much of the lavish material from the original scene and the piano-writing winds up sounding heavy-handed.  Further, the conclusion to this and the later concert version has a crassness of imagination when compared to the brilliantly achieved conclusion of the actual ballet – an unanswered question that bemused Diaghilev.

By the time Gugnin reached the end of his Shrovetide Fair, I’d had enough and the recital had run well overtime.  However, it completed a highly informative event that let us hear at first-hand what the Sydney jury had seen in Gugnin that singled him out.  I have to confess that the performer’s appearance had me fooled; from the publicity shots, including the one reproduced above, he looks remarkably young  –  possibly a late teenager.   He is, in fact, 30 and has a physical stature that argues for familiarity with gym work.   In the end, apart from his physical presence, Gugnin is  an impressive figure to see at work and obviously has the requisite talent to further a career that is already packed with appearances cross the globe.

 

Lucid and airy

ANGELA HEWITT

Melbourne Recital Centre

Tuesday May 16

                          

                                             Angela Hewitt

The Canadian-born pianist has appeared here under a few organizational banners – Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Impresaria, Australian Chamber Orchestra, and Musica Viva which is sponsoring this latest tour of two programs and a clutch of masterclasses. Oddly, her stellar Bach recordings and live appearances with the Australian Chamber Orchestra don’t rate a mention in the MV program, which is a pity because her readings of the concertos and even a strange Brandenburg No. 5 where she has the solos and Linda Kent’s harpsichord does continuo duty were/are remarkable weddings of soloist and accompaniment.

On Tuesday, Hewitt opened with Bach, of course; you don’t build a reputation like this, with its attendant expectations, and then avoid the obvious; God knows there’s plenty of material to deal with.   For both programs on offer, the pianist is performing two partitas, the big No. 4 in D Major (which is common to both nights), balanced – sort of – on this occasion  by the better-known No. 1 in B flat.  After interval, we branched out into five Scarlatti sonatas, the Ravel Sonatine, and the final solo piano work by Chabrier, his Bouree fantasque.

No short-changing in her Bach, Hewitt played all repeats; like every pianist with sense, she made sure the second time around was more than a simple here-we-go-again exercise. For the familiar B flat Partita, she impressed as always by the clarity of her linear work. Given her instrument’s ability to make life easy, she continues to be most sparing with the sustaining pedal, which makes her load more taxing but fills these pages with a welcome sparkle; even the opening Praeludium with its (mainly) three layers came over with excellent lucidity, aided by a supple dynamic range that avoided heroic clangour.

This clear-speaking delivery continued through the work’s dances, notable for a sturdy Sarabande informed by a gently applied rubato, and as close to ideal as you could expect in the concluding Giga in which the supplementary quavers  enjoyed a burbling subservience to the crotchet melody line – far from the more common and leaden Solfeggietto cross-hand exercise we usually have to endure.

For the D Major work, Hewitt began the Ouverture with an attractive declamatory style that emphasized the key movement rather than the brusqueries of the demi-semiquaver scales and written-out ornaments, before a stunning account of the movement’s latter section that begins with a light-hearted fugue motive before working into a striking polyphonic complex at about Bar 62, a nexus that doesn’t take itself too seriously; in Hewitt’s hands the  bouncy good humour is maintained, particularly through the bass-heavy bars 105 to 109.  The following dances and Aria became intriguing for the executant’s mode of presentation rather than for her technique which was hard to fault: the poised solemnity of the large-scale Allemande where Hewitt made the occasional triplet or pair of them serve as placid disturbances of the regular metre; a sturdy drive in one of the finest Courantes from the composer; a similarly firm impetus in the odd-man-out Aria; the deft folding-in of the Sarabande‘s  opening two-bar question with its lengthy, ornate response; in the Menuet, a simple example of art concealing art in the gentle handling of congruent triple and duple passages;  all capped by a buoyant Gigue where yet again the more active passages of interplay – like bars 16 to 19, or 78 to 85 – delighted for their purity of detail and Hewitt’s remarkable gift of keeping three balls in the air.

The post-interval events began with five Scarlatti sonatas.  Two of them were among the composer’s most well-known: K. 491 in D Major, and the E Major K. 380.  If anything, Hewitt makes these works speak more simply than many another pianist; her chording is less flamboyant or filled out, the ornamentation veers towards spartan, dynamics rarely move below mezzo forte.  The D Major K. 492 enjoyed brisk treatment, a fine contrast with the courtliness of the two better-known sonatas.  And the final K. 24 in A Major came over with plenty of braggadoccio, the pulse maintained throughout without turning towards a martellato effect.  I must admit to being distracted by the middle work in the bracket, listed as ‘Sonata in B Major, K 377’  –  a piece I didn’t know and which proved even more unfamiliar as it was actually in B minor; puzzling about this and doubting my sense of pitch distracted from whatever Hewitt was accomplishing with it.

The Ravel piece also came in for firm treatment.  Hewitt is not disposed to apply washes to these pages and the Modere, despite its lush underpinning figure-work, impressed for a no-nonsense delivery where ppp remained a definite entity rather than a wisp.  The Menuet impressed for the rhetoric brought into play at its central climactic point, while the concluding Anime gave the pianist ample space to show her talent at unflustered dexterity in what amounts to a toccata, albeit a remarkably tautly structured one.  The only quality missing was verve, like the elation you experience when hearing the main motive striking out from an underlying susurrus of semiquavers.

Hewitt has a passion for Chabrier’s piano music, and most of us know too little of it to sympathize one way or the other.  The Bouree fantasque is a formidable show-piece without much substance but packed with excitement and flurries of virtuosity.  This performance was lively enough, if it lacked the punch that you can see in the score; the reading caught fire at the return of the main theme proper after Chabrier has finished with his F major central section and the florid chromaticising he employs to get back to his C minor home key.  The final rousing 24 bars brought this entertaining if unwieldy bonbon to a glittering conclusion.

Hewitt plays her second program on Saturday May 20 at 7 pm.  Along with the Bach Partita No 4, she will play the C minor Partita No. 2.  The rest is Beethoven: Sonata No. 1 in F minor and the Moonlight No. 14 in C sharp minor.

Recital’s insightful first half

STEPHEN HOUGH

Melbourne Recital Centre

April 19, 2016

Stephen Hough (musicavivaaustralia.wordpress.com)
Stephen Hough

Here was one of those nights when it might have been better to leave at interval.  The popular British pianist, on his third solo tour for Musica Viva, is playing a program that has been well honed as Hough has toured with it through minor (and sub-dominant) English centres, France, Taiwan, China, Japan, Belgium, the Barbican, Canada, followed by a clutch of appearances in the United States.  With his final Australian performance here on April 30, Hough will have given this sequence an airing nearly 30 times in ten months – which is putting to one side his many concerto appearances and interpolated recitals with cellist Steven Isserlis.  The man is nothing if not driven to perform and, judging by Tuesday’s audience, he has an enthusiastic following.

True to his reputation for favouring the less-trodden paths of repertoire, Hough began his night with Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, D. 784.   A clean delivery with a firm hand on the middle movement’s Andante direction made this one of the event’s highlights, even if you might quibble with some pauses and hiatus  points in the first movement that admittedly gave some respite to the slow-to-hatch dramatic bursts in this spartan set of pages.  The pianist’s treatment of the finale with its oscillation between overlapping triplets and its seamlessly extended melodic line in the more regular/straight 3/4 interludes helped to underline the message that, with this composer, more is required than just relying on the score to give interest through inbuilt contrasts; Hough treats Schubert as an ongoing narrative where the parts have to be knitted into an intellectual complex.

The following version of Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue impressed even more for the executant’s clarity of texture in a piece where such a quality is often hard to find under washes of pedal clouding.  While the opening pages held interest for Hough’s digital control, his exposition of the chorale with its long sequence of arpeggiated chords complicated by the left hand crossing over, sometimes awkwardly, to outline the melodic line, was remarkable for its authority, the progress of this section fluent and rhythmically sensible.   For once, the fugue capped the triptych, Hough making the later pages almost lucid, even where the action borders on the over-rich in chromatic shifts.  At the conclusion, you were left with the sense of a task accomplished with firm discipline and a brake on any form of excess.

As before interval, two composers featured in the recital’s second half – Liszt, and Hough himself.   His recently composed Piano Sonata No. 3 was commissioned by the British Catholic periodical, The Tablet, to celebrate the publication’s 175th year of operations. Subtitled Trinitas, it has religious connotations beyond its title but the most prominent feature of its nature is its basis in 12-tone row compositional technique.  But you will find only traces of the Schoenberg ethos, let alone style, here and pretty much nothing of anything serial.   Hough bases his row on major and minor triads and the work’s tendency is towards giving these building blocks pre-eminence in their natural state.  The concept is at least as old as the Berg Violin Concerto with its overlapping triads as initial G minor-establishing (for a moment!) material.  Hough’s first-of-three movements, a Lento subtitled ‘Bold, stark’, lives up to its own descriptors and leaves a spacious, clangorous impression.   The middle Allegro, ‘Punchy, jazzy’, struck me as a kind of toccata, one-note-at-a-time passages at high speed punctuated by some chordal breaks.  The last part, an Andante, eventually quotes a hymn – again bringing up memories of the Berg concerto – and also makes use of a high tintabulating punctuating sequence, serving as a kind of decorative motif but wearing out its welcome all too quickly.  Certainly, the flavour in this last segment of the sonata seems to be semi-liturgical. in many listeners’ cases proposing an emotional response; to this listener, however, it seemed a comedown after the harmonic challenges of the work’s earlier stages.

The Liszt bracket contained the first two Valses oubliees, elegantly outlined by Hough, assuredly, but works where the memories summoned up are of gestures and fripperies, lacking anything to feed on apart from a kind of subdued virtuosity and, in the first, that elegiac resonance that Liszt intended to evoke.  Finally came two of the Transcendental Studies: No. 11, the Harmonies du soir extravaganza, and then its antecedent, once known as Appassionata.

Hough made fine work of the first of these, especially when the richly-chorded melody of the Piu mosso emerged triple-piano at bar 38: a fine example of gradually intensifying the dynamic scale.   The No. 10 is intensely demanding and rapid in its figuration; in this case, it sounded over-pedalled and often hard to decipher.  In fact, the pace was so punishingly allegro molto agitato right from the beginning that the concluding stretta simply melded into the work’s pell-mell execution rather than actually raising the energy level.

 

Local voices aired on Richmond Hill

COMPOSER’S CONCERT

Melbourne Composers

St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Richmond

Sunday April 3

Anyone looking at this concert program before the event would have felt overwhelmed: five composers, seven world premieres, eleven works in all ranging from solo piano pieces, through trios and string quartets, to a full-blown symphony.  As things turned out, the overkill looked more threatening on paper than in actual performance even if, as you might have anticipated, the impact of certain works was less substantial than a few stand-out scores.

Kitty Xiao after para 1
Kitty Xiao

As conductor/host Andrew Wailes pointed out, the musicians who made up the afternoon’s personnel were of mixed abilities: some professionals, some advanced students, some amateurs or amiable musically competent friends.  Further to this, several of the more difficult works suffered from that bugbear of projects that work on volunteers’ good-will almost exclusively: insufficient rehearsal.  Counterbalancing those problems, quite a substantial number of the works presented made congenial listening, if often not offering much challenge to audience or performers.   This easy-access aspect emerged pretty quickly with Kitty Xiao’s Nimbus and Nipper for flute/alto flute, violin and piano where the amiable spirit of Australian post-impressionism loomed large.  At certain points, when the instrumental mesh and harmonic changes were aligned, you also heard echoes of Franck’s chamber works – which is fair enough if your intention is to suggest a combination of aural imagery and weltering emotional activity.  Xiao’s piano part took the limelight in both works for a while but she was more than adequately served by Cameron Jamieson’s violin and the breathy flutes of Jessica Laird.Kitty Xiao

Hana Zreikat’s first offering came in the form of a piano solo, Elan, which employed plenty of common chords in its stop-and-start progress.  You could not find much of a contemporary edge to this composition, pleasing though it was but mainly distinguished by the addition of added notes for an occasional frisson of harmonic colour.

Carol Dickson
Carol Dixon

Three of the premieres followed in quick succession. Carol Dixon’s Piano Trio No. 1, The Dove, made its points in one continuous movement with the best content falling to pianist Natasha Lin; her companions, violin Navin Gulavita and cello Sage Fuller, made an unhappy start with what at first impressed as poorly matched intonation, which then recovered, only to fall prey later to further dislocation.  For a while, you could suspect that these tuning discrepancies might have been caused by Dixon’s adding tension to her harmonic constructs, but no: the unsettling effect came from the playing itself.   Certainly the work followed the environment set up by both Xiao and Zreikat in being amiable in its melodic fluency, predictable through its rhythmic consistency and un-alarming in the actual demands on its interpreters.

By contrast, Sarah Elise Thomson’s fresh String Quartet No. 1 showed attempts to grapple with post-Bartokian musical activity.   Following the one-movement format, this piece showed an enthusiasm for activity, although at its centre lay a lengthy section featuring sustained-note interjections from the upper strings over a repeated pattern from Sage Fuller’s cello.   Gulavita at second violin partnered Matthew Rigby on first and Georgia Stibbard’s viola but, despite the activity, the performance proved to be some rehearsals removed from security.

Rigby proved a strong presence in the succeeding String Quartet No. 1 by Dixon. Subtitled No Stone Unturned, the score followed minor melodic paths for much of its length but showed little sense of parameter-expanding adventure, especially compared with its predecessor in this program.   Acknowledging the influence of Ravel’s and Debussy’s essays in the form, Dixon imposed a fairly obvious structure of returning to and mildly developing her material with a penchant for the sorts of fluttery gestures found in both the French composers’ quartets, but you would need a very secure body of performers to give polish and interest to a pretty predictable piece like this one.

Benjamin Bates adopted the time-honoured three-movement framework for his Symphony No. 3, this program’s largest element in scale and number of participants. While the composer led the double basses in this presentation under Wailes’ direction, he based a fair bit of the symphony’s material on Spanish guitar-inflected melodic scraps, fairly obvious when Bates brought them to the front of the action, but not the most arresting features of the work when considered as an entity.   The three movements ran into each other so that the second movement’s impressive solos for cor anglais and bass clarinet emerged organically from a tautly argued opening Allegro-Presto-Allegro continuum; later, the finale’s attempt at a fugue also emerged from the fabric without any warning.

Some woodwind pitching could have been more carefully managed, the flute pair sounding the most reliable performers from that cohort.  You felt the absence of trumpets from the mix, if only to provide some brisker flavour to the exposed brace of horns, able though these players were.   And confining percussionist Jessica Bird’s contributions to a side-drum removed another source of potential timbral input.  Still, the score has an intriguing energy and a kind of Sibelian brusque lyricism at its best moments, as well as several patches of tedium where the argument loses impetus, as in the fugue which cries out for a tauter delivery than could be achieved with two rehearsals.

As a bracket to this major piece, the program moved back into chamber mode with music by Dixon, Zreikat, Thompson and Xiao.   For her Soldiers’ Suite, Zreikat accompanied herself while singing three songs: Now I Find Myself Hoping which  proved to be a simple pop-tune lyric of some length, in the manner of Adele at her most depressed; Somebody’s Waiting which followed a similar vein of predictability; finally, Enya’s May It Be from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.  All of which seemed to be an anomaly on this program where other contributors grappled with the art of composition without resorting to overuse of cliches and sentimental simplicity.

Dixon’s Ocean Oasis I for mixed trio – Laird, Jamieson, Xiao – generated more of the same impressionistic colouring as at the afternoon’s start, this time depicting Norfolk Island. Again, the piece raised no alarms and presented its atmospheric suggestions with expertise: perfect accompaniment for a documentary on the island’s beauties.  Xiao’s Emei, reminiscing about a journey up a mountain in China, turned into a slow waltz, lushly scored with plenty of imitative work for Laird and Jamieson, Xiao’s piano generating an attractive underpinning shimmer in parts.  This was just as suggestive of Ravel as the Dixon String Quartet No. 1, although this time what came to mind was the Ravel Piano Trio especially its final movement’s assertive figuration.  In contrast Thompson’s Riven piano solo, played by Zreikat, showed an adventurous mind at work, what with hitting the piano wood, playing on the strings and occasionally indulging in washes of sustained, across-the-keyboard dissonance, counterbalancing an employment of lavishly arpeggiated common chords.

In the end, the many components of this program formed a kind of arch with smaller-framed constructs, some close to bagatelles, book-ending the central symphony.  The composers themselves deserve praise for the actual physical exercise involved in collaborating to mount this concert and in attracting into service the various talents required: the Nimbus Trio of Laird, Jamieson, and Xiao; the Briar String Quartet of Rigby, Gulavita, Stibbard and Fuller; Zreikat lending her talents to Thompson; and the significant number of well-wishing musicians participating in the Bates symphony.  It’s grass roots stuff and at times rough-edged, but this sort of ad hoc concerted willingness to give  creative voices an airing bears witness to the reassuring fact that at least this particular Melbourne Composers corner of our city’s musical life enjoys good health.

 

 

Going bravely into the lists

CHOPIN

Enrico Padovani

ZDB Classic CD

ChopinCD

A native son of Parma,  educated in that city and Florence, Enrico Padovani has cut a swathe through the various competitions for piano in his native land – Fusignano, Racconigi, Pistoia, Piombino, Riccione, Padova, Moncalieri – winning prizes as both soloist and chamber musician.  Approaching the middle years of his career, Padovani – teacher and performer – has issued this sample of his considerable talents entering a particularly crowded field; most of the works performed on this CD have been recorded times beyond count by musicians of superb, transcendent insight as well as by players who over-estimated their own abilities.

It’s hard to think of a composer whose works have been the subject of so much brilliantly incisive scholarship and investigation for its own sake.  Chopin remains the ne plus ultra for many pianists, his works presenting challenges in their own right as well as in the light of recorded performances by high-profile executants.  Even these days, 165 years after the master’s death, players of all nationalities and abilities grapple with works that range from the near-unplayable to the deceptively simple and straightforward.  As well, Chopin is one of the few composers to have an international competition  – one of the most searching (and often controversial) on the European stage – held in his honour.

Padovani’s choice of material shows a bracing response to the Chopin challenge.  You don’t find the all-too-familiar pieces in this 11-track offering.  The stand-alone popular works – Berceuse, Barcarolle, Fantaisie-Impromptu, D flat Etude, E flat Nocturne – are absent as Padovani goes for the jugular with the Sonata No. 3 in B minor, the four Opus 17 Mazurkas, the non-flamboyant C minor Polonaise and the posthumous Waltz No. 19 in A minor. His only gesture to the well-known comes courtesy of the B flat minor Scherzo No. 2.

The sonata takes pride of place and Padovani approaches it with a firm grasp of its confrontational nature.  Unlike many of his peers, he repeats the first movement’s exposition in a fluent exhibition of technique with a deft mixture of discipline and rubato in the interpretation’s metrical progress.  The development sounds over-muscular, the texture pretty thick; but then, this segment of the work is probably the most problematic and disappointing for any executant, let alone a dispassionate analyst of the movement itself.  In the following Scherzo, for once the actual rhythm is clearly articulated, not the usual meaningless run of catch-as-catch-can quavers meant to dazzle with legerdemain while at the same time puzzling for a lack of structural sense.  Just as impressive in musically informed terms is the movement’s Trio, where the middle voices emerge with appreciable clarity.

It would be hard to cavil at the B Major Largo that opens in brusque majesty, only to fall back into a finely spun melodic paragraph.  As with the preceding movement, Padovani makes several individual strokes in the central section where his use of rubato is both pronounced and well-positioned.  He also shows an enviable tenth-embracing left hand stretch just before the turn back to the movement’s home key.  With the Finale/Presto, this interpretation gives pride of place to the left hand in those places where the right has sequences of downward-rushing scales, an emphasis that robs these pages of some much-needed lightness of texture.  Still, the final blaze into B Major is both well-accomplished and exciting to experience.

Few of the near-60 mazurkas ring recognition bells with the public, except for the early B flat Op.7 and the two used in Fokine’s Les Sylphides ballet. This Op. 17 set are fairly obscure, only the first favoured by many pianists, but none of them is technically challenging to negotiate.  Padovani begins the first B flat piece with a definite rhythmic impetus, albeit restrained in its dynamic contrasts.  The following E minor work succeeds much more pleasingly with a sensitive amalgam of strength and fragility, the left hand drones sustaining a finely-honed melody line that gradually shrinks into itself.  Pick of the set is the ambivalent No. 3 in A flat, Padovani investing its two pages with excellent shapeliness of phrase and sensitive variety of touch: an outstandingly sensible, and coherent interpretation.  The last of the sequence, Lento ma non troppo, shows an individualistic approach with the tempo direction’s last three words informing the chosen pace.  Here is not the mournfully languid meander that many other pianists make of it but a much more insistent creature; its inner propulsion both unnerving and somehow just right as a no-nonsense patina-stripping exercise.

The most sombre of the polonaises, the C minor of Op. 40, holds few moments of virtuosic excitement, unlike its Military A Major companion.  Padovani underplays the work’s tragic connotations, taking a very aggressive approach with the left-hand octave melody-line and giving us little consolation in the A flat Trio where Chopin inserts some actual polonaise rhythmic gestures; here, these passages are given sotto voce before the muffled call to arms makes its re-appearance.  In sum, this is a striking example of how to look with fresh eyes at pages that have been typecast in solid ambient gloom for far too long.

The Scherzo finds the executant using his sustaining pedal to create sound-washes, sometimes effectively, at other stages over-painting the harmonic welter. The work comes to a powerful, dramatic conclusion but the right-hand descending figure that dominates the main theme’s second strophe is often articulated oddly; its notes are all there, but they register unevenly, some weightier in impact than others.  It might be an essay in internal diminuendo each time but the effect is ungainly – a rare disappointment.

Finally, Padovani provides his own encore with the small-scale waltz, a mini-essay in delicacy and the least difficult piece on the CD.  For all that, it makes for an ideal rounding-off after all the preceding pounding vitality, as the pianist gives it a clear-speaking integrity of phrase through a muted dynamic palette that speaks volumes for his powers of musicianship and sensitivity.

He might not be the most eminent name among current Chopin interpreters but Padovani shows us through his enterprise in producing this CD how many-sided, how protean is the Polish composer’s genius, achieving this end with devotion and indubitable craft.