Vassily Primakov is pretty clear about his feelings towards Chopin. In the notes to his new recording, the 33-year-old pianist says his Chopin is the product of a “life-long journey” and “constant wandering.” He further confesses to “an emotional and a physical need to have this composer present in my life at all times”… “no matter what!”
A strong sell, perhaps, but Primakov delivers the goods when he sits down to perform three of Chopin’s sonatas, four ballades and three scherzos. The recording is a labor of love for the pianist. It’s also the latest release on LP Classics, a decidedly retro label that he co-founded in 2011 with Natalia Lavrova, a fellow Russian-born pianist and Juilliard graduate.
Why retro? Besides the name, the pianists say LP Classics is dedicated first and foremost to hard-copy releases at a time when a growing number of record labels are ditching CDs altogether and going digital-only. Yet no mere vanity project, Primakov and Lavrova say they are dedicated to reissuing neglected archives of the Moscow Radio, RCA, Sony and other catalogs. There have been six releases to date, with three more planned for the fall.
As for Primakov’s Chopin, there’s much to admire. The Sonata No. 1 is among Chopin’s least-recorded works but Primakov makes as strong a case for its power and sweep as he does with the Second and Third Sonatas. The Scherzos churn with angst and turmoil, but Primakov doesn’t allow their structure to disintegrate, always keeping the underlying rhythms steady and firm. With the ballades, there’s plenty of poetry, especially in the popular No. 1, but again, the rubato is constantly kept in check.
Below is a video made in 2011 of Primakov playing the Ballade No. 1. The interpretation is a little more fluid than on the present recording but it gives you a fine sense of his approach.
Chopin: 3 Sonatas, 4 Ballades, 4 Scherzos