Diary planning can be the bane of your life. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things you really want to do. But at least one of the joys of planning ahead is scanning the concert season to see what people are up to, whether you’re looking for a particular piece, composer or performer. A quick skim at 27-year-old Anna Fedorova’s upcoming schedule, for example, reveals a healthy spread of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Prokofiev, Scriabin and Rachmaninov in a range of solo, chamber and concerto performances. But this time it was a return to Chopin, with Fedorova covering all four of the composer’s Ballades and the eight Waltzes that were published during his lifetime. In a neat bit of programming, the Ballades were played either side of the Waltzes. These two musical forms made complementary companions, with the lightness and intricacy of the Waltzes contrasting with the more profound intensity of the complex Ballades.

Anna Fedorova © Marco Borggreve
Anna Fedorova
© Marco Borggreve

Fedorova proved to be a compelling interpreter, poised firmly in the driving seat for these pieces and controlling events calmly and with assurance. She displayed a thoughtful and poetic touch in the Ballades with a fiery determination that pierced through the music in whirls of spiralling frenzy, particularly in the thrilling climaxes and tension-fuelled build-ups. The fluidity of her phrasing was well-judged, with subtle and not so subtle changes of pace being carefully but effortlessly executed, although there were moments in Ballade no. 1 in G minor when there was a little too much hold before moving on. The Ballades are masterpieces, with so much going on that they are like mini-symphonies in solo piano form. Fedorova was particularly impressive in Ballade no. 3 in A flat major and Ballade no. 4 in F minor, showing a healthy range of pianistic styles and ensuring that all the inner voices of Chopin’s complex melodic and harmonic lines came through. The rhapsodic flourishes in Ballade no. 1 in G minor and the reflective, gentle rocking and thunderous ferocity of Ballade no. 2 in F major were finely handled, but her judging of when to apply just the right amount of tenderness, and the way she gave power and character to each variation in Ballade no. 4 were particular highlights.

The concert was part of the Blüthner Piano Series, Blüthner being one of the “big four” piano manufacturers. Their instruments are described as having a golden tone, although the particular instrument played by Anna Fedorova had more of a clear, crystalline and almost bell-like tone, with a singing quality. With Fedorova’s technical brilliance and finesse, the instrument’s sound lent itself well to Chopin.

The Waltzes gave a contrasting flavour. Generally light and fluffy on the outside, these pieces are inventive and structurally intricate, for all of their lilting oom-pah-pah popularity. This gave Fedorova plenty to play with, showing fingers like light feather dusters one moment and like targeting torpedoes the next. The two three-waltz sets of Op.34 and Op.64 had the second waltz in each case being the only one in the minor key and more reflective in nature. This also showed how, in the right hands, a traditionally uplifting dance style can turn the tables towards the melancholy. Fedorova was impressive in these more pensive laments, sensitively meandering over the anguished lines before flighty flashes of brilliance took over.

These were refined and mature performances, begging the question why we have not seen more of Anna Fedorova. She displayed command of the instrument and of the stage, and held the attention of the audience admirably with the breathing quality of her interpretations, moving (metaphorically and physically) with the music and just about holding back from a temptation to over-shape. If Fedorova was not yet in our sights, maybe our diary planning might need a little bit of an adjustment.

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