Valentina Lisitsa CHOPIN - SCHUMANN Études

Ukraine-to-North Carolina transplant Valentina Lisitsa has gained tremendous popularity by using YouTube (75 million views and counting) to market her music. No one should say that Lisitsa is merely an Internet phenomenon; more like her, taking the music directly to potential listeners through contemporary media, are sorely needed. The Internet has propelled her to a spot on the roster of the major Decca label, and she has played mostly mainstream Romantic repertory with a diversion, on her last release prior to this one, into the piano music of Michael Nyman. Here she takes on some real standards, the 24 Chopin Etudes, Op. 10 and Op. 25, and the technically even more perilous Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13, of Schumann, rendered with five extra variations in the middle excised by Schumann from the work and published posthumously (the work is essentially a set of variations that spills over its boundaries, something like the Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, of Beethoven). The Schumann fits Lisitsa's strengths; she has formidable technique in passagework and is exceptionally skilled at bringing out the kind of inner counterpoint that the Symphonic Etudes are all about. The same strengths apply in the Chopin, where her left hand doesn't flag in the workout it receives. According to the booklet notes, the Chopin etude performances of Alfred Cortot served Lisitsa as a reference point. Her performances don't really sound like Cortot's beyond a somewhat idiosyncratic quality; Cortot's readings apparently caused Rachmaninov to laugh so hard that his false teeth fell out, and it's hard to imagine that happening here. There's nothing terribly poetic about Lisitsa's performance, but there's no denying that she's on top of the music and that the physicality she has brought to it on the Internet is present. An interesting chapter in a unique contemporary pianistic career. (James Manheim)

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