Janina Fialkowska Recital

It is 36 years since Arthur Rubinstein hailed a young Polish-Canadian pianist as "a born Chopin interpreter", yet Janina Fialkowska has never really become a household name. Even before contracting a rare cancer of the shoulder in 2002, she was a pianist whose devoted admirers preferred to keep her to themselves. Now fully recovered, after several years playing one-hand repertoire (an experience she insists, much as Leon Fleisher does, has made her a better musician), she is back and – thanks to a widely acclaimed new Chopin recording – very much in business.

It was not until I heard her play live, however, that I realised quite how extraordinary she is. The long history of performing traditions in Chopin, though extremely varied, tends to move by stealth, with pianists piling further traits on to the practices they have inherited from their teachers and models. Some work, some don't. With Fialkowska, though, you get the impression less that the music is being interpreted than uncovered – as if all the discoloured resins and glues have been removed, everything pulled to pieces and put back together from scratch.

With very light pedal use, some rubato but nothing forced, and a steady emphasis on the music's inner lines that both clarifies Chopin's often exceptionally adventurous harmonies and, ironically, frees up the melody by diverting attention away from it, old warhorses such as the Grande Valse Brillante in A flat, or hardy perennials like the B major Nocturne Op 62, shine with newness.

Fialkowska is also fearless when it comes to tempi. This, combined with the nakedness of her interpretation, means she risks coming a serious cropper in concert. Nothing was spoiled beyond repair, but the third Ballade and second Scherzo could certainly have gone better. That said, I'd rather listen to Fialkowska's mistakes than the painless perfection of many other pianists.

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