Olga Pashchenko

Transitions: Dussek, Beethoven, Mendelssohn

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Compared with Baroque or even High Classical composers, recordings of Romantic music on period instruments remain rare. This release by the young Russian pianist, still a student (of Richard Egarr at this writing), offers a dramatic demonstration of possibilities that are only beginning to be explored. Pashchenko makes a good case that the "transitions" from Classical to Romantic were in part technical in nature, made possible by the burgeoning capabilities of the piano (and other instruments as well). Her program is unusual from a modern perspective, but an audience in the middle of the 19th century wouldn't have found it strange. It serves Pashchenko's aims admirably. She plays a pair of hitherto unknown pianos from the collection of Kremsegg Castle in Austria, an 1812 instrument by Donath Schöfftos (the stepson of Anton Walter, whose instruments are much more common) and an 1827 Graf fortepiano. Both tend toward great power and a brilliant upper register, and the Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 61, of Jan Ladislav Dussek, completed in 1807, exploits both of these. The work is subtitled "Harmonic Elegy on the Death of His Royal Highness Prince Ferdinand of Prussia," the dedicatee of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, who was killed in action in 1806. This is a spectacular blood-and-guts work, in two movements, as extreme pianistically as any of Beethoven's sonatas of the same period. The interpretation of the Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33, is similarly extreme, with the abrupt mannerisms of those works exaggerated and resolved in glittering cascades of high notes. The Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, and Mendelssohn's Variations sérieuses for piano in D minor, Op. 54, are played on the Graf piano. Pashchenko's interpretations are a bit more restrained here, but they're cut from the same cloth; the syncopated variation in Beethoven's finale explodes with a force rarely heard on other recordings. Some may find her playing a bit over the top here, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that she has offered a radically new way of thinking about early Romantic music and has carried through that way of thinking intelligently. If you find yourself attuned to Pashchenko's playing, this will be a rare thrill.

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