Thu 13 Nov 2014

«When I saw in the program notes that Moscow-born pianist Philipp Kopachevsky is participating in a project called Stars of the 21st Century, I could well believe it. The talent on display on this CD isn’t from a Russian whiz kid of the week. Kopachevsky’s hands communicate real musical thought, awaiting only the last touch to season his expressivity. As it is, Kopachevsky confidently holds the Liszt B-Minor Sonata together as more than a show of flying fingers. Like Yuja Wang, Kopachevsky adds a touch of intensity to every bar, leaning into the line and making you want to hear what comes next. Nothing is banged out, and the glittering delicacy of the right-hand passages reminds me of Daniil Trifonov. I’d say that overall, Kopachevsky’s reading of the Sonata is in the same league as Trifonov’s live recording from Carnegie Hall (DG).

Born in 1990, the pianist balances a professional touring career with postgraduate studies at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory (an increasing pattern among rising pianists, one notices). The cover photo depicts him as serious and boyish, with a Beatles mop of hair. But musical talent tends to be no respecter of age, and Kopachevsky’s phrasing is satisfyingly mature while at the same time applying a fresh coat of paint to a warhorse that happens to be Liszt’s keyboard masterpiece.

Liszt’s struggle with triteness was never a problem for Schubert—I can’t imagine the “Wanderer” Fantasy ever turning into a warhorse. Kopachevsky begins his reading with vigor and urgency, yet there’s room for subtle tempo swerves. Best of all, he handles the statement of the theme from the Lied Der Wanderer, D 489, like someone who’s singing it. There’s variety of touch throughout and a sense of remaining alive to the possibilities behind the notes.

Young pianists of ambition like to pair Schubert and Liszt; adding Janáček into the mix is novel. The Sonata 1.X.1905—the date refers to the day a young worker was bayonetted during a public demonstration—is an example of Janáček’s ability to dramatize emotional turbulence, one of his great gifts as a composer. The idiom is rhapsodic and free, pure expression on the wing. The two movements are starkly entitled “Foreboding” and “Death.” As piano writing, there’s something wonderfully alive here, and Kopachevsky is perfectly attuned to both the tragedy and the aliveness.

Unrelieved praise can make experienced readers a little suspicious, so where are the flaws? At times Kopachevsky phrases a bit stiffly in the Liszt. His transitions aren’t quite miraculous. He builds excitement in the Schubert a little early, perhaps (but his performance is exciting, and it does build). One great advantage here is the absolutely splendid, lifelike recorded sound, which brings great vividness to Kopachevsky’s playing. Listening to the program’s final send-off, an adroitly managed account of Liszt’s Valse-caprice No. 6, one of his delightful treatments of Schubert, I couldn’t help but wonder if Kopachevsky will become an international star or fade into the wallpaper of Russian keyboard virtuosity. His playing is too personal and intriguing to deserve the latter fate.»

Huntley Dent