Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Debut Recording

Ever since pianist Georgijs Osokins’ unexpected but highly successful recital debut in Vancouver, I have often listened to and enjoyed his first commercial CD – Chopin – Late Works, Op. 57 – 61 (Piano Classics PCL0109). Hearing this recording confirmed and reinforced many of the impressions I formed while hearing Mr. Osokins’ live performance last season.

The recording begins with a ravishing account of Chopin’s Berceuse in D-flat major, Op. 57. In this miniature masterpiece, Chopin foreshadows the piano writing about half a century later in the works of Claude Debussy. In the “duet” within the right hand at mm. 7 to 15, Osokins plays the alto voice with a subtlety that really catches the listener’s attention. From m. 15 to m. 18, when Chopin “hides” the melody within the grace notes, there is a shimmering quality in the sound the pianist makes on the instrument. From the descending thirds at m. 31 to the chord series at m. 35, to the 32nd note runs commencing at m. 37, Osokins’ pedaling creates a truly magical effect. Finally, at mm. 53 and 54, the artist plays the right hand triplets with such delicacy that it is breathtaking. All in all, a very promising start to this recorded recital.

In Osokins’ interpretation of the composer’s Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58, he employs quite a generous amount of rubato. But never do I feel that anything is unnatural or contrived. To be sure, this is an interpretation that is different from many I have heard, but it is not different for the sake of being different, or being clever. After the opening descending 16th notes, Osokins manages to play the three appearances of the ascending chords (mm. 2 to 3, 6 to 7, and 10 to 11) each time differently. At m. 23 (to m. 27), his playing and pedaling of the left hand chromatic scales is nothing short of masterful.  Throughout the extended movement, Osokins manages to achieve great clarity in the Chopin’s complex contrapuntal thread. In the second movement, the pianist achieves a gossamer lightness with his quite incredible finger work. It is interesting that at the end of the scherzo, Osokins did not strictly observe Chopin’s ff marking, but he did at the end of the return of the scherzo after the trio, which makes for a more emphatic ending to the movement.

After the portentous opening to the third movement, Osokins plays the opening theme beautifully, but also rhythmically impeccably. At his recital last season, I was quite taken by his playing of the E major theme at m. 29. Well, his playing of the same theme here is just as captivating. The brief secondary melody in the left hand at m. 46, and again in m. 80, is beautifully realized. In the dolcissimo entry of the theme at m.99, now accompanied by triplets, Osokins injects the music with a different feeling than when it first appears at m. 4.

Osokins’ playing of the opening octaves of the 4th movement creates a momentous feeling as well as one of suspense. The 16th note runs starting at m. 76, marked leggiero by the composer, is played with an exquisite lightness that is exhilarating. Unlike many pianists, Osokins did not overdo the hairpins (crescendo and decrescendo) at mm. 189 to 190, but uses them to shape the right hand arpeggio. Throughout the movement, the listener feels a sense of unflagging energy, but never at the expense of the lightness the music calls for. What is rare, especially in an artist so young, is that there is always a sense that there is still reserved energy not yet unleashed. Moreover, even in the heat of the excitement, Osokins never creates an ugly sound. Everything is always musical. The coda was not rushed, but the buildup to the cataclysmic ending was incredibly effectively paced.

After the large canvas of the sonata, Osokins turns to the three Mazurkas, Op. 59. Musically, these are probably the most intricate music in the entire disc. The young artist successfully conveys the very individual character of each of the Mazurka, as well as the spirit of the dance. In Op. 59, No. 1, he serves as the listener’s guide through the complex contrapuntal web at mm. 42 to 50. The ending to the same Mazurka was extremely spacious; it is as if he is reluctant to let the music end. In Op. 59, No. 2, I was especially taken with how he successfully captures the lilt of the dance, and the way he plays the theme in the left hand at m. 69 is extremely striking. In Op. 59, No. 3, he achieves a magical moment in the key change from m. 44 to m. 45.

For me, the highlight of this outstanding recording is Osokin’s interpretation of the Barcarolle, Op. 60. The pianist successfully evokes the smoldering eroticism of Chopin’s score. Right at the outset of the work, in the left had “rowing” figures of the left hand, he creates a trance-like, almost hypnotic effect. At m. 14, in the right hand descending sixths, Osokins realizes to perfection Chopin’s leggiero marking. The same can be said about his interpretation of the composer’s sotto voce indication in m. 40, at the beginning of the A major section, creating a hushed quality in the music. At m. 61, with the right hand chordal theme, he balances each chord so meticulously and so perfectly, that the music really does float. One thing I noted from Osokins’ recital is his remarkable ability to create a liquid sound on the piano. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the rapid right hand runs starting at m. 78. In the coda, the left hand chords at mm. 113 and 114 are played so beautifully that it takes my attention away from the rapid passagework in the right hand. From first note to last, this is nothing short of a masterful interpretation of this miraculous work.

In the Polonaise-Fantasie, Op. 61, Osokins did not get carried away by the looseness of the work’s structure, but gives us a structurally sound, rhythmically tight reading of the piece. In the very difficult opening, I appreciate how he balances sound and silence. I was also taken with the way he plays the left hand octave triplets at mm. 10 and 11, making them sound like sudden outbursts of sound. At m. 181, he successfully conveys the heartbreak of this achingly beautiful melody, but he does not overdo it in its reappearance at m. 216. At the beginning of the coda (m. 254), Osokins did not strictly observe Chopin’s ff marking, but wisely allows the music to build.

After hearing these massive works, it seems a bit of an anti-climax to end the recital with the Souvenir de Paganini in A major, Op. Posth. That said, Osokins gives the music the same attention to details as he does to every work on this disc, lavishes his beautiful sound on every note and infuses the music with great charm and lightness.

In the 2015 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Osokins was deemed too controversial or unpredictable to have been awarded the top prize. I have now heard this disc half a dozen times, and my impression is one of a young artist giving us what he feels to be the way to interpret the music. Hearing his performances, I do not feel that he is out to seek attention, but is on a quest to seek the meaning of every piece of music he sets out to play.

Georgijs Osokins is an artist we should be watching and listening to very closely in the years to come.

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