More than any other kind, debut CDs by young soloists on less-known labels need something to make them stand out. Unfortunately, Polish pianist Katarzyna Pietroń has chosen a centre-repertoire programme, her "musical tribute to the masters of piano music", of which moreover six items are really only encore pieces. She and Acte Préalable are offering would-be listeners less than 50 minutes of music at undiscounted price. From here it is surely uphill all the way to the international stage and to the bank.
Still, Pietroń smiles optimistically on the front cover, a disposition reflected in these confident performances. Her recital is split into three sections, one for each composer. As far as both Chopin and especially Debussy are concerned, her selections are too brief to allow any real conclusions to be drawn regarding her approach to these composers. That means, significantly, that it is not for Debussy or Chopin that anyone will be drawn to her album. Why did she not at least include the third Estampe?
Nevertheless - and this is true throughout - what she does play, she does well, with a good deal of clarity, warmth and elegance and without affectation. This latter point is instantly evident in the C minor Etude, which has quite often found itself subjected to a lot of pianistic hot air, presumably in keeping with the piece's nickname - but which is apocryphal. Similarly, Pietroń approaches the Scherzo in B flat minor with a level head, where many others have come to refashion Chopin in their own image.
Before all this, Pietroń starts with her centrepiece, as it were, yet even this lasts only sixteen minutes - pathétique
, yes; grande
, no. One criticism that could be levelled at Pietroń is that she does not communicate any real power. Whilst this frees her from any accusations of keyboard pounding as cultivated by certain pianists, she does fail to differentiate dynamics to any substantial degree - volume is fairly steady throughout. In the opening grave of the Sonata, for example, where the first three bars each require a fortepiano, she merely offers forte each time. On the other hand, many other soloists are blind to Beethoven's 'fp' - Abdel Rahman El Bacha on Mirare (review
), François-Frédéric Guy on Zig-Zag (review
), Yundi on Deutsche Grammophon (review
), Jean-Efflam Bavouzet on Chandos (review
), HJ Lim on EMI Classics (review
), to name but a few recent recordings - and at least Pietroń is not wilfully self-indulgent elsewhere like some of these. Guy's flat-lining second movement is still better than Lim's ludicrous rhythmic helter-skeltering, but anyone with musical sensitivity is likely to prefer Pietroń's intelligently middle-course account by miles.
Acte Préalable's recording is up-close and dry, but generally pretty good, although in the Beethoven there is now and again minor left-right channel flickering. Pietroń's own notes on the works, allowing for the shaky renderings and many misplaced definite articles of the non-native translator - are enthusiastically readable. The booklet does give the impression of having been padded somewhat with what is essentially the same full-page picture of Pietroń four times over - plus once more on the disc itself. Listeners may well wonder whether the label's products might not be a little cheaper if it spent less on glossy colour photography. Certainly, a lower retail price would generate more interest from collectors who already have a large number of beloved versions of all of this music - even if some of those do belong filed under 'Historical Curiosities'.
Pietroń's provided biography is detailed, but very Poland-oriented - the lists of 'outstanding specialists', academic departments and venues are unlikely to mean much to anyone outside the country. She evidently keeps busy though, and loves the music. The low sales that seem inevitable for this disc in the current economic and cultural climate are unlikely to dent her spirit; nor should they.
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Masterwork Index: Beethoven Pathetique sonata