Primakov plays Chopin Mazurkas

Vassily Primakov
Chopin: 21 Mazurkas
Bridge Records

Bridge’s most recent offering of Chopin from their young Moscow-born virtuoso Vassily Primakov was a disc of the concertos so firmly swathed in Rachmaninovian intensity that, while the results were not without interest, the delicate character of the pieces ultimately crumbled under pressure. Rachmaninov’s presence is felt no less in this new recording of 21 of the Mazurkas. But in contrast to the concertos, Primakov’s big-boned pianism really brings something valuable to Chopin’s bucolic oeuvre.

If this strikes you as odd, given what one naturally imagines would be lost in sacrificing some of the lightness and flexibility of touch required to bring the often fleeting melodies of these works fully to life, you’ll understand what led me to play the disc repeatedly until I convinced myself that my first impressions weren’t simply mistaken. Even now, some weeks after first playing the recording, it still takes me by surprise. Primakov seems to lean so heavily into the instrument – a tendency reinforced by the dark acoustic of the Odense concert hall – that the resulting brooding sensitivity accumulates and shapes the listening experience in an entirely new way.

The success of Primakov’s approach is all the more striking in the more fragile works. The robust, barn-dance style pieces, such as first of the Opus 17 set, in B-flat, simply won’t allow for too much dark humour, and Primakov bashes through them nimbly. In the more fragile numbers, however, such as the fleeting F minor mazurka from Opus 63, or the fourth from Opus 17, in A minor, with its delicately de-centred arabesque, Primakov seems to squeeze out a new set of colours and associations from this well-worked terrain. Nor is the inner balance of each piece troubled, the young pianist’s sense of timing proving near infallible, even when appearing to push the rubato to its limit, as in the A minor, Op. 67 No. 4. Primakov has also threaded his own intelligent path through his selection of pieces, making this album thought-provoking in the compositional as well as interpretative sense of this term.

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