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Chopin: Late Masterpieces / Sandro Russo

Release Date: 10/04/2019
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30125
Composer:  Frédéric Chopin Performer:  Sandro Russo

Delving into the world of Chopin during his later years, "Chopin – Late Masterpieces" features some of his undisputed treasures from that period. His late works represented groundbreaking, innovative piano compositions and proved to be beacons onto future generations of composers.

Album Credits:
Recorded February 11 and March 30, 2019 at Patrych Sound Studio, New York City.
Producer/Engineer Joseph Patrych
Mixing and Mastering: Joseph Patrych
Piano Technician: Kenneth Farnum, Jr.
Piano: Steinway Model D #147 (Hamburg)

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
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Production Assistant: Renée Oakford

For a pianist who usually takes great chances in concert, Sandro Russo’s square phrasing in Chopin’s Fourth Scherzo’s Trio and slightly inhibited approach to the outer sections’ rapid runs and dotted rhythms suggests that he might be studioshy. Yet perhaps the microphone’s unforgiving presence factors into Russo’s concentrated delineation of the Berceuse’s two-part right-hand writing. Op 56’s first and third Mazurkas abound with colourful inner-voice activity, although Russo’s fast traversal of the C major No 2 undermines the music’s earthy swagger.

The Polonaise-fantaisie is memorable for Russo’s flexible phrasing and organic transitions from one episode to the next. The pianist’s astutely paced and dynamically charged final pages compensate for his somewhat rambling introspective stretches and not-so-carefully gauged trilled chords. What starts off as a decent, regulation model Chopin Barcarolle gradually turns poetic and heatfelt midway, and, thankfully, Russo resists today’s common temptation to speed up the big chordal passage prior to the coda.

Russo yields little to other comparably imaginative and characterful renditions of the B minor Sonata’s Allegro maestoso, and his essentially line-orientated pianism is exactly what Chopin’s knotty polyphony requires. The Scherzo is on the sober side, yet crisply and purposefully articulated. While Russo begins the Largo with sustained steadiness, his little expressive ritards and caesuras in the central episode cause my attention to wander. By contrast, the understated nobility of Russo’s finale generates a satisfying cumulative narrative, and one will notice Russo’s particular attention to the accents and rests that often catch pianists unaware. Unlike many recent Steinway & Sons releases stemming from the company’s Spirio reproducing piano files, this disc captures Russo in the flesh, so to speak, with producer Joseph Patrych’s Steinway regulated to tip-top standards by Kenneth Farnum, Jr.

-- Jed Distler, Gramophone

Italian pianist Sandro Russo revives the elegance and grandeur of the 19th-century piano tradition in this recording of late Chopin works. Having previously recorded several major piano works from the Romantic repertoire (as well as those of lesser-known composers), on this album Russo highlights every aspect of Chopin’s inner world. A selection of pieces that includes both intimate forms such as the mazurka and berceuse and the monumental Third Piano Sonata, this album feels like a personal memento. Noble forces are at work here, generating the sound aesthetics of beauty and adroit virtuosity, a combination that is well suited to Chopin’s music and is the essence of Russo’s artistic expression.

Three mazurkas on this album are a perfect example of Chopin’s mastery of expressing the grand gestures in small-scale works. Mazurka in C Minor Op.56 in particular is a microcosm of understated emotions of melancholy and surrender, yet it contains innovative musical language that at times seems different than anything Chopin had written previously. As a contrast, the Sonata in B Minor Op.58 is as big as it can get. This complex piece is a macrocosm of amplified emotions, an unrestricted cascade of brilliant phrases that command attention and challenge the performer both musically and technically. Sandro Russo is immaculate in both, bringing a fresh approach while keeping with the tradition of the grandiose Romantic era.

-- Ivana Popovic, The WholeNote Read less