Sophia Agranovich: Passion and Fantasy = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata”; CHOPIN: Fantasie in F Minor, Op. 49; Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58 – Romeo Records 7303, 73:13 [Distr. by Albany] (4-1-14) **** :

Sophia Agranovich, a pupil of Anna Stolarevich, Sascha Gorodnitzki, and Nadia Reisenberg, won high praise from composer David Diamond as “a musician of splendid gifts.” Agranovich recorded this recital August 5 and 12, 2013 at the Sean Swinney Studios, New York City. In her program notes, Agronovich writes of Beethoven music as evoking “feelings and thoughts about man’s struggle with fate, tensions between the subjective and objective, and the joyful triumph of man’s mind and spirit with love and life.” Her Appassionata Sonata proceeds with clear delineations of character and mood via the F Minor triad, the 12/8 Allegro assai perhaps more marcato than some prefer.  The secondary motif conveys a sense of optimism in the midst of crisis, the “Fate” motif’s becoming palpably malevolent in the throbbing bass line. The dramatic flow of the competing elements proceeds naturally, without mannerism, quite lyrically, and with a light hand. But the last pages do reach a thrilling peroration, sudden and explosive, before the music dissipates quietly and leaves us unresolved emotionally.

The tragic drama of the first movement has a tonic complement in the Andante con moto’s theme and variations whose half-steps unite it to the first movement progression. Agranovich plays the tight canon in lulling form, the music’s retaining its extraordinary singing power. The running figures dance silken and playfully evocative, moving with pointed grace to the cadence on D-flat and the rolled diminished seventh that sets us up for another pregnant silence prior to the fateful Allegro ma non troppo that moves in perpetual motion in rapid, even manic, sixteenths. With the somewhat traditional working out of the formal structure, repeating only the second half of his theme, Beethoven suddenly introduces a new theme in martial, pounding chords and syncopated sforzandi that Agranovich negotiates with smooth finesse.  The coda, however, does threaten to come apart, perhaps deliberately, in the spirit of passionate abandon.

The “Neapolitan” impulses in Beethoven find fuller expression in the two works by Chopin, beginning with his magisterial Fantasie in F Minor of 1841.  Its national colors evolve into five themes interrupted by passionate declamations. Agranovich plays luscious chords and rolling arpeggios, resonantly ardent after her ominous “funereal” opening. Pungent declamations in a polonaise rhythm and the rolling arpeggio refrain lead to an orison of uncommon beauty, the serene atmosphere, although ephemeral, persuasively realized by Agranovich’s subtle nuances. Tempests and poetry collide in the final pages, with memories of the chorale still ringing when the ascendant arpeggios triumph over a tumultuous, dualistic universe.

Agranovich delivers an impressively mounted B Minor Sonata (1844), the first movement of which, Allegro maestoso, she imbues with the broadly expansive character – by way of the taken repeat and slow tempos – of a passionate ballade or resolutely fevered nocturne in sectionalized motifs.  As introspective as it is vehement, the first movement announces a Chopin acolyte of suave technique and poetic temperament. The whirlwind E-flat Major Scherzo: Molto vivace flits and rambles in its outer sections, embracing a series of dreamy counterpoints in B Major that constitute the trio. Everything about the central Largo evokes an elongated opera aria in the manner of a barcarolle saturated by parlando or recitative passages, the middle section of which rocks us in Agranovich’s right hand triplets most caressingly. The impetuous Finale: Presto con brio thrusts Agranovich into a maelstrom tarantella her Steinway projects with frenetic energy.  The primary motif, increasingly emphatic, reveals the brilliant filigree Agranovich might offer us in the more spirited mazurkas and waltzes. By the blazing coda, her soaring octaves a crystalline runs have quite swept us into and beyond Chopin’s rarified world to the hot-house vision that engendered the recital as a whole.

—Gary Lemco