May 2001

Katina Skanavi - Chopin
Pro Piano Records CD PPR224522
Released: 1999

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Once again I dip into the Pro Piano Records goodies bag and once again come up with a superb solo piano recording -- this time Chopin's Sonata No. 2, Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Berceuse in D-flat Major, Andante Spinato and Grand Polonaise Brillante in E-flat Major, and Introduction and Variations to "Je vends des scapulaires." And once again I’m dazzled by both the elevated musicianship and superior recording quality that seem to be a hallmark of Pro Piano Records.

This 24-bit recording, produced in June of 1998 at The Academy Of Arts And Letters, New York represents the recording debut of Russian-born pianist Katina Skanavi, playing a Hamburg Steinway D 0160. Pro Piano uses a recording technique they term Pianist’s Perspective Recording (PPR), which makes it seem as though you are looking over the shoulder of the piano player, hearing the sound exactly as she heard it. But how, you may ask, does it all add up? Do all these parts coalesce into a whole?

Ms. Skanavi, whose career in the limelight began in 1989 with a third prize at the Marguerite Long/Jacques Thibaud International Piano Competition, has since performed almost exclusively in Japan and Europe, playing with some of the finest conductors of our day. She is a graduate of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Clearly, she has a formidable talent, but does that translate into a worthwhile performance?

Yes it does. Starting off with the Introduction and Variations, Ms. Skanavi runs the gamut of tempos and dynamics. The Andante Spinato is spirited, full and dynamic. The Berceuse is delicate and played with feeling. The Nocturne is slow and deliberate.

But it is the Sonata No. 2 (written at the full height of Chopin's creativity, when he was 29) that really shines here. Skanavi's prodigious talent allows her to draw forth a spectacle of moods and tempi. It’s apparent that she enjoys this piece, and that she’s spent many hours studying both it and Chopin himself. She plays this piece superbly in a jaunty performance that draws you in and keeps your attention until the fade-out of the last note (which, by the way, will come all too quickly). Chopin was not a composer who catered to the public. Instead, he wrote music that allowed him to explore every facet of the piano, its every nuance and possibility. Ms. Skanavi seems to understand that the piano itself is the star, so she never lets her virtuosity overshadow Chopin's art.

Marche Funebre is the sonata's centerpiece. It starts with a slow, funeral dirge that Ms. Skanavi captures well. But deep within the sonata lives a lightness -- a hope and promise of better days -- that she also seizes, and that will grab you too.

The sound lives up to the performance. The piano is spread out in front of you. You can hear the sound emanating upward and outward from the strings to the soundboard and out into the room. While there is little in the way of room sound, the piano sounds real. It’s just up-close (maybe that’s why Pro Piano calls it "pianist perspective").

This is an impressive debut, and one that foretells good things for the future. I look forward to many more albums from Ms. Skanavi and Pro Piano.