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In 2019 Alexandre Kantorow became the first French pianist to win the gold medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition as well as the Grand Prix, which had only been awarded three times before in that competition’s history. Moreover, his previous releases have been garlanded with prizes, so this album has a lot to live up to.

Beginning with one of Brahms’ most celebrated and frequently performed works was a risk that hasn’t quite come off. Kantorow takes the introduction too fast, and his approach to the work’s outbreaks of wildness is to stab at the notes in a way which seems unhinged rather than passionate; he doesn’t find the winsome beauty which should characterise the tender interludes.

But everything else on this album is pretty formidable, and the choice of repertoire is interesting. Not many players attempt Brahms’ Second Sonata, partly because it’s less satisfying than the First and partly because it’s tricky to bring off: Kantorow makes a fine shot at it, as he does Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 11. But the main interest of this record lies in his performance of Bartók’s Rhapsody Op 1, which the young composer wrote for himself to play. Its first half is an extended – and very un- Bartókian – improvisation, in which Kantorow finds a chaste beauty; its second half is a tissue of the Hungarian dances to which the composer would later bring a coldly scientific eye.

MICHAEL CHURCH Read the full review on Agora Classica

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