Ever since I first became acquainted with Evgeni Koroliov’s playing—initially of Bach and Handel and later of Prokofiev and Mozart—the pianist has always intrigued me. Perhaps it is his always interesting, yet always unique way of approaching the classics, but perhaps even more so, it is his engaging way of communicating through the music he chooses. And for any pianist, Chopin must always be of at least some interest, so brilliantly did the composer write for the instrument and so heartfelt is his music. From the opening of the F-Minor Ballade I could already tell that something was different here. Koroliov sees this piece rather much more of a story being told in the moment—a story to which seemingly he does not yet know the ending—than the recreation of one already told. His loose way with the rhythm at first bothered me, but when I saw how he was approaching the piece, in an almost improvisatory way, the effect became magical. The contrasts in sections were rather less jarring than in some performances: there is much more fluidity to his pacing, an almost inevitability of every section which follows another. Most remarkable here, though, is the way which Koroliov not only makes the piano sing, but speak—the way he approaches each melodic line, it is almost as though the subtle changes in color, in dynamics, in slight adjustments of tempo are mimicking a protagonist’s voice. The Nocturnes are similar in approach, yet different as well: there are less varied moods throughout the individual pieces; they still feel improvisatory in nature, and yet Koroliov does not speak through them. Their message must be sung. And sing they do in the pianist’s capable hands. The Impromptus found in the middle of the recital are a breath of fresh air and amazingly, the way Koroliov handles them, these pieces sound the least improvisatory of all. There is an almost classical sense of pacing here: the pieces sound anew in that they give a remarkable stability and sense of being in the moment, of knowing exactly where one is and to where one is going. The E-Major Scherzo, in a sense, brings us full around and reveals yet a different side of both composer and performer. The mood is lighter, airier, yet the tension of the story is still there. Koroliov’s passagework sparkles, the rapid staccato chords bounce, and the middle section’s melancholic melody is simple in effect, yet aptly heart-wrenching. This is some of the finest Chopin playing that I’ve come across is years: this is not Rubinstein’s way, nor Pollini’s. Koroliov finds a way all his own. And the more one listens to him, the more convinced one becomes that this is the way this music should be played. What more can I say? Grab it and enjoy!
Scott Noriega

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