CHOPIN: Four Impromptus; Scherzo in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39; Two Nocturnes, Op. 32; Polonaise in C Minor, Op. 40, No. 2; Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 45; 3 Mazurkas, Op. 59; Presto con leggeriezza in A-flat Major – Kevin Kenner, fortepiano – The Fryderyk Chopin Institute NIFCCD 010, 61:40 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Performing on an instrument typical of Chopin’s own era, an 1848 Pleyel built at the Royal Fortepiano Factory in Paris, American virtuoso Kevin Kenner (b. 1963) contributes thirteen pieces towards The National Edition of Fryderyk Chopin’s Complete Works. The earliest of the pieces are two: the C-sharp Minor Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66 and the slight Preludium in A-flat Major (Presto con leggeriezza), from 1834. The late pieces, G-flat Impromptu (1842) and Three Mazurkas, Op. 59 (1845) reveal the artistic and harmonic growth of this most idiosyncratically original of all the Romantic pianist-composers.

Kenner, whom I recently reviewed for his recital in San Jose, CA, enjoys exploring the stylistic permutations in Chopin, and this strong recital taped in Warsaw (17-19 March 2009) demonstrates the power and flexibility of Chopin’s own instrument, given its range of 82 keys. The soft delicacy of timbre that infuses the opening C-sharp Minor Prelude and the second of the impromptus, the F-sharp Major, Op. 36,  more than suggest a combination of poetry and power accessible to the temperamental Polish nationalist who embraced the Parisian cosmos as his own. Many of the works incorporate not only brilliant roulades and instrumental flourishes that approximate the vocal bel canto style, but exploit a variation principle Chopin found congenial for chromatic experimentation. That very sense of improvised harmony comes forth well in the F-sharp Major and G-flat Impromptus, each of which applies Chopin’s audacious harmony to an idiosyncratic variation technique.

The light action of the 1848 instrument still carries an emotional clout and formidable resonance, as in the Polonaise in c Minor, Op. 40, No. 2, its C Minor authority rife with dark menace. The familiar Fantasie-Impromptu cascades in robust fioritura, elegant in its middle section that may have us chasing rainbows. The brilliant Prelude in A-flat (1834) flutters by in silken arpeggios. The two Op. 32 Nocturnes convey salon nostalgia and bel canto arioso at once, especially the B Major’s invocation of Les Sylphides. The monumental C-sharp Minor Scherzo perhaps rings less forcefully than it does on the modern grand piano, but its alteration of declamatory chords and fiery runs proves engaging as it had at Kenner’s San Jose concert, which specifically featured the complete set of Scherzi. The late set of three Mazurkas, Op. 59 celebrate the composer’s national soul ever more authentically in this instrumental guise, the passing metric subtleties lingering between waltz and aristocratic or peasant dance. Intimate and explosive simultaneously, these purely rhythmic kernels seem always poised for both militant gallantry and earthy dalliance.

–Gary Lemco