Frédéric François Chopin
2020 / Centaur
Review by Kathy Parsons
I have to admit that I’m all over the map when it comes to piano music that I love, but when it comes to classical music, Frédéric Chopin always seems to rise to the top - both to play and to listen to. With her eighth album, Sophia Agranovich pays homage to Chopin and the 210th anniversary of his birth with a breathtaking selection of some of his larger works for solo piano. These are his Sonata No. 2 in Bb Minor, Op. 35; the four Scherzos, and his Polonaise in Ab Major, Op. 53. Ms Agranovich’s performance is flawless with dazzling precision and passion (not necessarily in that order!), moving effortlessly from pianistic fireworks to deep despair and mourning to graceful lyrical lines that are pure poetry. I think it’s a real bonus that Ms Agranovich also wrote the liner notes for the album, giving insight into both the origins and history of the each piece as well as her approach to and interpretation of some of the passages of those works.
Born in Ukraine, Sophia Agranovich’s concerts were broadcast on national television from the time she was 6. She won the Ukrainian Young Artists Competition when she was 10 - and the youngest participant. She began her studies at Juilliard in New York at 15 and earned her Bachelor and Master Degrees there. She is a celebrated and in-demand educator whose students consistently win top awards in regional, national and international competitions and often perform in prestigious venues. Ms Agranovich is also a lecturer, master class clinician, adjudicator and the recipient of many teaching awards. She is a Steinway Artist and has been referred to as a “tigress of the keyboard” by Fanfare Magazine (with good reason!).
Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in Bb Minor, Op. 35 was composed in 1839 and is considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of the nineteenth century. One of three piano sonatas Chopin composed, it is probably the best-known and was often performed in concert. Both physically and emotionally demanding, Agranovich handles the music with power, grace and ease. The third movement, “Marche funèbre,” is one of those classical pieces that became almost cliché from overuse in cartoons and other pop culture, but Agranovich imbues the piece with such deep emotion that I feel like I’m really hearing it for the first time.
Each of the four Scherzos expresses a wide emotional range, allowing the pianist to paint with a full palette of musical colors from the darkest blacks to fiery reds and pastel sparkles. Agranovich is a wonder in her performance of these very demanding works.
The Polonaise in Ab Major, Op. 53, nicknamed “Heroic,” was and is a favorite for its “noble powerful expression, romantic tenderness and virtuosic display” (quoting the liner notes). From thundering chords and octaves to lightning-fast runs to tender lyricism, Agranovich gives it her all and makes it her own. Brava!
Sophia Agranovich is truly “a bold, daring pianist in the tradition of the Golden Age Romantics” (again quoting Fanfare) and her performance of these Chopin works is nothing short of amazing. Frédéric François Chopin is available from most retail and streaming sites, including Amazon, Apple/iTunes and Spotify.
October 16, 2020