Chopin: Etudes Op.10 and Op.25 (Fialkowska)

A superb but not particularly well-known recording of the Chopin etudes. Fialkowska is the sort of pianist you don’t really hear about, but quietly goes about getting rave reviews and collecting the occasional award. Her playing is relentlessly confident and texturally creative, but without any hint of narcissism. There is nothing at all etude-like about her playing, as her interpretations feature loads of gloriously inventive musical decisions, all of which make for a fantastically revelatory musical experience. [Comments on individual etudes below, with particularly interesting ones asterisked.]

00:00 – No.1* – Note Fialkowska’s clever decision to accelerate towards the end of the upward RH runs, creating the occasional illusion of only 3 beats in a bar and creating the sense of a single, unbroken, soaring line.
01:54 – No.2
03:15 – No.3 –Incredibly tender voicing, with a particularly dramatic middle section.
08:02 – No.4 – Pleasingly clear playing. Often the No.4 is burnt to a messy cinder, but here the playing is transparent and exciting throughout.
10:02 – No.5 – An atypically full-blooded account, with lovely legato playing, especially at moments like 10:37.
11:44 – No.6 – Nearly no pedal used throughout, to great effect.
16:22 – No.7 – A notoriously hard etude to interpret effectively, but this version is pretty amazing, with unforced RH playing and perky figurations in the left.
17:51 – No.8* – A real tour de force. The most light and legato version I’ve ever heard. Note the gorgeous pianissimo playing in the D minor section, and the textural shifts at 19:29.
20:10 – No.9 – Played like a real tone poem, with almost impressionistic freedom.
22:51 – No.10 – The textural variation between the staccato and legatissimo sections is pulled off perfectly.
25:07 – No.11 – Voicing!
28:02 – No.12*– A ferocious and overwhelming account. Note how Fialkowska at moments like 29:32 accents the E-flat at the peak of the LH run, which both adds drama and creates an aural overhang which prepares the sotto voce RH chords which come immediately after.

30:48 – No.1– Beautifully muted, with judiciously retrained rubato.
34:02 – No.2
35:40 – No.3* – Taut, punchy, spectacular
37:26 – No.4 – A very brisk tempo, which Fialkowska exploits fully to let the melodic line sing.
38:58 – No.5* – Note how even in the first section Fialkowska varies the articulation of the theme hugely, from the detached 38:59 to the fully held notes of 39:24.
42:18 – No.6 – Yet again an incredible tempo, but one completely in service to the music, allowing Fialkowska to generate a sleek, glittering murmuration in the RH.
44:18 – No.7 – The climaxes are prepared and played to perfection, and the voicing is consistently flawless, with some very convincing use of rubato.
50:03 – No.8
51:09 – No.9
52:07 – No.10
56:18 – No.11*– One of the very best accounts, with a LH full of swagger and a RH full of nimble ferocity, and extremely fine dynamic control.
59:56 – No.12* – As with the very first etude, the sense here is not of notes in succession, but a whole series of gorgeous runs, perfectly smooth and unbroken. The melody sings with utterly compelling clarity.

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