Vassily Primakov | Chopin Sonatas Ballades Scherzos | 2CD Set
CHOPIN. A Life long Journey…
It is hard to explain my life long attraction to this composer.
It began back in Moscow, Russia. I was ten. The first “big piece” that I tackled with my teacher at the time, Vera Gornostaeva, was the Waltz in E flat Major, Op.18. It was an immense challenge for me. I remember struggling to comprehend what Ms. Gornostaeva was explaining to me – all the nuances of the different sections and the ever so illusive mystery of Chopin’s rubato, his rhythmical gracefulness and so on.
I believe this is when I firmly decided to continue the ongoing search/struggle/affair with this composer.
Since then, I have frequently performed Chopin’s works. Even when my recital programs do not include any of his pieces, I end up playing at least a couple of Mazurkas as encores. There is an emotional and a physical need to have this composer present in my life at all times. That need is driven not just by the love for Chopin’s music, which is apparent, but also by his music’s ability to constantly remind me of my own journey and a desire to continuously grow. I guess in many ways, it is about the “unobtainable” – the constant journey, constant wandering, constant trying, failing, at times succeeding and then again, continuing the never ending SEARCH! This search is something I have always cherished as an artist, and I sincerely hope that I will always continue this journey – as both, a musician and a human being, no matter what!
In many ways, this present Album (2 Disc Set) represents a stepping-stone. By all means, it is not an album of achievements. It is an album of search! Pieces that have long been dear to me, assembled together for the first time. Therefore, when I recorded these works, I had a very clear vision: which was not to make just a very good studio album where all is clean and tidy, NO!!! Instead, I wanted this to represent my current vision, TODAY’s vision, of these pieces. My current interpretations – performed not for a studio setting, but the way I would play them on stage! Slightly exaggerated, maybe sometimes faster in speed and with the adrenalin rush that is usually present on stage, but NOT always in a studio, and emotionally truthful and raw.
While listening to these tracks, I asked myself whether I am satisfied? The answer is, of course, NO – but am I happy with how it turned out at this stage of my journey? Absolutely YES.
I know there will be a time when I will look back and possibly criticize my interpretations, but not today. Today, I want to share with my audience and listeners how this music has affected me up to now, and how I have lived through it thus far.
(No. 1 in C Minor, Opus 4; No. 2 in B flat Minor, Opus 35; and No. 3 in B Minor, Opus 58)
It needs to be pointed out that out of three Sonatas, the Second and the Third are much loved, often performed and, to this day, present in almost every pianist’s repertoire worldwide. The First Sonata has its own unfortunate fate of being constantly overlooked and largely neglected.
I must say, my eternal gratitude goes to Vera Gornostaeva, who was not only the teacher, but also the person, who inspired me to learn this piece in the first place. She performed all 3 Sonatas of Chopin, and recorded the First Sonata back in 1958 for Melodiya (possibly the first person to ever record it). Her passion for this work was contagious. When I first started reading it, I immediately realized how absolutely precious this work is. Yes – It is not yet a flower; it is a flower bud. The genius of Chopin is not yet fully blossoming, but it is there, and just about to go on a fascinating journey of self-discovery.
The work was composed in 1828, under the tutelage of Józef Elsner, to whom it is dedicated. Despite having an opus number, the sonata was not published until 1851.
Later in life, Chopin considered revisiting this early work and revising it, however, whether due to his poor health or mere disinterest – it never came to fruition.
First movement – Allegro Maestoso.
Second – a lovely Minuetto, that seems to be inspired by Schubert’s Dances.
Third – Larghetto – is set in 5/ 4 time, which is unusual for that era. Here, one certainly hears Chopin’s voice developing and reminds us of his mesmerizing 2nd movement of his 2nd Piano Concerto, Op.21. It is even in the same key – A Flat Major.
Last Movement, Finale – Presto. This is not the most inspired music he ever composed, but it is quite worthy nonetheless, filled with drama and virtuosity. I do want to mention that I purposely do a cut in this movement (the cut that was also given to me by Vera Gornostaeva). This cut enables a performer to skip some of the repetitive material and condense this movement into a tighter form.
Sonata No. 2 in B flat Minor, Opus 35
Grave – Doppio movimento
Marche funèbre: Lento
Composed a decade later, in 1839, though the 3rd Movement, “Marche funèbre” was composed prior to that, in 1837.
The battle of life and death.
The opening 4 bars sum it up. I often think of Leo Tolstoy’s epigraph to Anna Karenina “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”. To me, these first 4 measures have the same affect. It tells us right from the start how it will end.
The inevitable thing about this sonata is that one ends up applying his/her own battles to this music. I guess, to understand this music better, one needs to experience loss.
I learned this piece first when I was 13, and it seemed almost unimaginable to try to grasp the concept of this giant. Then, when I was 25, and I lost my mother, performing this piece took a different turn. It became more meaningful, more personal.
Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Opus 58 (composed in 1844)
Scherzo: Molto vivace
Finale: Presto non tanto; Agitato
It is interesting to look at the Three Sonatas as though they are The Three Stages of Life.
The First is searching and wondering; the Second is facing the battle and coming to terms with mortality; and the Third is the ode to life!
Everything about the Third sonata is life affirming, from its powerful and fearless opening, to the exaltation and ecstasy of the Finale.
This is the final stage of life and it is filled with joy, love and, the ever so present, reassurance.
(Composed between 1835-1842)
NO. 1 in G minor, Op.23; No. 2 in F Major, Op.38: No. 3 in A Flat Major, Op.47: No. 4 in F Minor, Op.52
Many believe that the Four Ballades were inspired by the poet Adam Mickiewicz.
Truth or not, I feel that these pieces were, indeed, inspired by literature. Somehow, the combination of literature, or better yet, poetry and music is always a magical combination.
Each Ballade starts with its own little epigraph. One can almost hear something along the lines of, “ Once upon a time, there was…., “ – and then the story starts.
I have always felt that the Four Ballades really tell only one story, in four different ways.
The 1st, though dramatic, is full of youthfulness, hopes and dreams.
In the 2nd , Chopin is juxtaposing two matters: light vs. dark; good vs. evil; beauty trapped in the abyss, which consumes this ballade in the form of the agonizing A Minor key.
The 3rd is the only Ballade that ends in a MAJOR key and I have always thought this to be most revelatory in this work. Although the story is just as dramatic as in other ballades, here, the ending celebrates all that is so essential in life, despite the inevitable drama that lurks all around.
And the 4th is the ultimate verdict. This work is an incredible journey for any pianist that performs it. It is as though the entire life unfolds before our eyes in this Ballade and words become useless in trying to describe Chopin’s monumental achievement.
(Composed between 1831 -1842)
No. 1 in B minor, Op.20; No.2 in B flat Minor, Op.31: No. 3 in C sharp Minor, Op.39; No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54
Although these pieces are called Scherzos, “Scherzo” meaning “joke” in Italian, they are indeed far from being a joke. With the exception of the last Scherzo, No. 4 in E Major, Op.54, these pieces are filled with turmoil, angst, and most importantly, as in the 2nd Ballade, there is always a clash of two forces. In the First and Third Scherzos, look at the demonic main themes, and then compare them to calmness and idyllic beauty of the middle section in the First Scherzo, or the choral like divine frescos of the middle section in the Third. Even in the Second Scherzo, the clash is very much present. Right from the beginning, we hear outbursts of something almost beastly. But then, as we get into the middle section, we are suddenly surrounded by an intimacy that only Chopin was able to provide us with. Then comes the 4th and last Scherzo and suddenly something changes. Finally, this work is closer to the meaning of the word Scherzo, more joke like, humorous. All the clashes are mostly behind us. The world looks different. It still has a touch of sadness, but ultimately, it provides us with … pure joy. It is a special world – A Wonderland that Chopin created in the last years of his life!