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Reviews Excerpts
More are available upon request
 

“…Agranovich has not only technique, but is refreshingly unwilling to flash it, as she seeks out the subtleties Liszt has built into the music… It all comes together in an interpretation that dares to be different. Beauty has tamed the beast… Magnificent shading and superior musicianship…”

“She caresses the notes, milks the music for ever expressive possibility, and persuades by a gentle coercion that can be seductive. I loved the opening Allegro maestoso, and had to restrain myself from crying with joy at the Venusian beauty of her playing. As a master of restraint she adds a new interpretive dimension to this often-recorded music. The Scherzo is less flashy and a little more deliberate than most. After accepting that, it was possible to enjoy its uniqueness. Once again her persuasive skills easily win one over. The Largo keeps the alluring melody always to the fore. There is nothing weighty about the playing. Nothing redirects your attention from the nocturne-like warmth of the music. The central section has a beguiling freshness to it and introduces no dark
clouds. What comes next in the Finale is a sudden burst of energy and passion. It sparkles, notes tumble over each other, and the music continues to build towards a dazzling conclusion. The added touch of restraint works beautifully in a performance that easily reaches the heights.”

“Agranovich will be a major discovery for piano aficionados. This goes considerably beyond the realm of merely good pianism, and the rich bass sonorities of the recording give an added dimension of satisfaction. The pianist also writes her own notes.”

 Alan Becker – American Record Guide

***

Sophia Agranovich is a bold, daring pianist in the tradition of the Golden Age Romantics. Her playing is full of lavish gestures and she is comfortable taking big risks. To take just one example, she adds fifths to several of the low bass octaves in the final pages of the Brahms Paganini Variations. The effect is overpoweringly noisy, almost ugly — and intentionally so. It’s the kind of daredevil exhibition that was bread and butter for the likes of de Pachmann and Hofmann and that most of today’s pianists shy away from.

Similarly, Agranovich’s take on Liszt’s transcription of “Widmung” is impetuous and improvisatory. Agranovich slows the tempo significantly before the first statement of the melody, much more than any accompanist of the original Lied would. She provides unexpected surges in the middle section’s accompaniment that threaten to but do not quite subsume the melody. The impression is of a pianist swept away in the moment of performing….

Agranovich’s presentation of Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes is a case study in technical mastery, musical depth, and meticulous attention to detail. The canonic entrances of the fourth etude are easier to follow in Agranovich’s hands than in those of almost any other pianist’s I have heard. She is likewise one of a very few for whom the clipped, military overtones of the first etude are hushed and stealthy rather than overt and aggressive. In the Baroque-flavored eighth variation, Agranovich combines the spaciousness of Richter and the propulsion of Gieseking to convey both tragedy and drive.”

Myron Silberstein  – Fanfare Magazine

***

“A musician of splendid gifts “

“As a pianist of remarkable technical accomplishments, she is also one of the more sensitive artists who brings to her performances a percipiency and sensibility all too rare among her contemporaries.”

“The over-all musicianship, her knowledge of a composer’s intentions aids her in bringing to all her performances that kind of intelligence one should demand of all first-rate pianists, but who, in many cases, concentrate most of their efforts on the sheer virtuosity of their impeccable techniques.”

“She is a singular artist and should be admired for that rare quality alone”.

 David Diamond,  Composer

***

” The pianist’s technique is thrilling, but it’s the boldness of her conception—her refusal to feminize the music—and the extraordinary dramatic urgency she brings to these pieces through grand Romantic gestures—probably to a greater degree than Chopin himself could or would have attempted on his Érard or Pleyel piano—that leaves one with the strongest impression of Agranovich’s playing…”     

Jerry Dubins – Fanfare Magazine

***

“Agranovich plays the tight canon in lulling form, the music’s retaining its extraordinary singing power.”

“Agranovich plays luscious chords and rolling arpeggios, resonantly ardent after her ominous “funereal” opening. Pungent declamations in a polonaise rhythm and the rolling arpeggio refrain lead to an orison of uncommon beauty, the serene atmosphere, although ephemeral, persuasively realized by Agranovich’s subtle nuances.”

“Everything about the central Largo evokes an elongated opera aria in the manner of a barcarolle saturated by parlando or recitative passages, the middle section of which rocks us in Agranovich’s right hand triplets most caressingly. The impetuous Finale: Presto con brio thrusts Agranovich into a maelstrom tarantella her Steinway projects with frenetic energy.  The primary motif, increasingly emphatic, reveals the brilliant filigree Agranovich might offer us in the more spirited mazurkas and waltzes. By the blazing coda, her soaring octaves a crystalline runs have quite swept us into and beyond Chopin’s rarified world to the hot-house vision that engendered the recital as a whole.”

Gary Lemco – Audiophile

***

“Agranovich is a magnificent technician”, “…gives us energy and tonal beauty”, “white-hot passion…”

Maria Nockin – Fanfare Magazine

***

“Like such Eastern European pianists as Lipatti, Fischer, Cziffra and, yes, Reisenberg, her Chopin is more muscular and less soft-grained than we are normally used to. (The only Western European pianist whose Chopin is equally wide-awake was Alfred Cortot, whose 1929 recordings of the Ballades compare favorably to Agranovich’s.)… In Agranovich’s skilled hands, these passages emerge as sturdy pieces of the overall structure, necessary transitions that bind the music together rather than simply rolling along. Such an approach makes all the difference in the world between glorified mood music and music that engages the mind as well as the emotions.”

“The pianist who approaches this work needs be mindful of this underlying structure, as it is imperative that everything be clear and all strands held together. Agranovich does this magnificently in addition to imparting more warmth to the work than young Brendel did. This, then, is a disc of high intrinsic worth as well as another feather in the cap of this superb pianist. I highly recommend it.”

Lynn René Bayley, The Art Music Lounge

***

 “She surely knocks off the Liszt etude with panache, plays the finale of the Beethoven with impressive washes of sound, and deftly aerates the endless swirls of Schumann’s piano writing—swirls that can so easily get stuck in lesser hands.”

“Unfailingly responsive to changes in musical terrain, she refuses to coast or to scant on the details, and the result is a series of eventful performances invigorated by imaginative articulation (the Liszt etude is especially striking in this regard), sensitive treatment of dynamics, and (most notably in the Liebestraum) a fine sense of phrasing in which plasticity of tempo never degenerates into self-indulgence.”

Peter J. Rabinowitz – Fanfare Magazine

   ***

 “…Extraordinary technique, refined velvety tone and elegant interpretations which are uniquely hers…”

“Her instrument is the piano but her sound rivals an entire orchestra.”

“From fiery, volcanic eruptions of passion to ethereal nuances of tranquility and tenderness that stir the soul, the enormity of her unmatched dynamic range of expression transports listeners to the realm of the mystical.”

Somerset Reporter

***

“…her métier is geared more towards music as architecture: a stylistically direct approach, albeit with fascinating and telling moments of rubato, an evolving sense of both mood and structure as two sides of the same coin, and a smoldering sense of passion in her playing. In short, she is a tigress of the keyboard, yet one who knows just how much to attack and when to pull back. She is a sort of cross between György Cziffra and Dinu Lipatti, a tigress who is also a poet.”

“It is musical brinksmanship of an extraordinarily high order.”

“In the Sonata No. 3, I was able to compare Agranovich with not only Reisenberg but with Lipatti, Cortot, Cherkassky, and Cliburn—certainly a clutch of outstanding pianists to drawn on. Agranovich does not really resemble any of them but comes closest to Lipatti, who also brought out the structure of the music he played. Yet I found her approach more poetic in places than his, pulling back a bit more on the phrases to allow moments to linger in the mind.”

“It’s not often that one encounters, in this day and age, an artist who not only has a dazzling technique, …but, better yet, an independent and individual way of thinking about music. Of course, when one specializes in the tried-and-true piano repertoire of the 19th century there is always a danger of having your “take” on a particular composer or work compared to the greats of the past (Schnabel, Gieseking, Lipatti, Fischer, Rubinstein, Gilels, Fleisher, Richter, Cziffra, Cherkassky, etc. etc.), but Agranovich has a way of expressing herself through this music in a way that almost precludes comparisons… She would rather take risks than present a glassy-but-perfect surface performance… Her approach to music is to throw her whole self into it. She seems constitutionally incapable of playing any other way. The results, then, are unique as well as exciting.”

Lynn René BayleyFanfare Magazine

***

“The highly accomplished Ukrainian-born pianist Sophia Agranovich gives exciting readings of two virtuoso works by Brahms and Schumann, but what gives them special interest is that she has taken the step (or leap) into interpretative freedom… She has the patience and temperament to give each of the 28 variations its own mood, and she also establishes a satisfying arc from beginning to end….The Steinway she plays is magnificent sounding and was recorded with depth and realism, a decided plus… Short of the ideal, which is more or less impossible, a satisfying interpretation should seem fresh, with spontaneous phrasing and natural rubato. Agranovich achieves this, and she goes further by dipping into the richly Romantic legacy of Russian-school Schumann. This will come as a bit of a shock to modern ears, but I was very pleased by her choices. The result is a bold interpretation where every phrase is emphatically personal.”

“Agranovich avoids anything resembling a modified Russian approach, striking out to find her own Chopin, which turns out to be unusually tender, gentle, and entranced. Even more than in the Schubert her gift for lyrical phrasing comes to the fore. The highlight is her reading of Ballade No. 4 in F minor, a work that instantly separates the poets from the poseurs. Her poetry is undeniable, and she brings out the element of fantasy in captivating fashion.

The impressive Ukrainian pianist Sophia Agranovich—widely admired in a number of previous Fanfare reviews—employs what I’d call a modified Russian style. She exhibits power and depth of tone, yet these qualities are subordinated to a natural lyrical gift of the kind that makes Schubert’s melodies float aloft.”

Huntley Dent – Fanfare Magazine

      ***

 “Remarkably, Sophia Agranovich manages to present these extremely familiar works with a distinct profile. In general, her style is clearly textured, measured in tempo, and rhythmically playful without being mannered. “

“…she travels across Liszt’s vast world with poise and determination, and throws out a sure sense of grandeur and theater with nary a trace of pomposity and bombast, a refreshing way with this booby-trapped score.”

Peter Burwasser – Fanfare Magazine

***

Indeed it is true that the opening of the Wanderer Fantasy is marked “Allegro con fuoco,” but one rarely hears it with this much “fuoco.” However Agranovich bridges beautifully between the forceful opening and the more lyrical sections of the music, and she does the same consistently in the four Ballades of Chopin. She applies a generous touch of rubato, particularly in the lovely F minor, but it never breaks the flow of the music. She is sensitive to the definition of rubato and she does rob from one part of the music and pay back the next. Her range is enormous, whether we are speaking of color or dynamics, but where she differs from so many improvisatory pianists is in her ability to appear to be making it up as she goes along while never losing the sense of overall architecture.

Agranovich is a Ukrainian artist who studied at Juilliard with Sascha Gorodnitzki and Nadia Reisenberg. That is a terrific pedigree, but many students don’t really blossom into fully formed artists even with good teaching. Agranovich has. There are many great recordings of the Wanderer and the Ballades, and it would be preposterous to say that Agranovich is better than all of them. But what can be said is that she can take her respectable place alongside Curzon, Richter, Pollini, and even Edwin Fischer in the Schubert, and Moravec, Cortot, Rubinstein, Gornostaeva, and a few others as well in the Chopin. If you don’t think of important performances of great music as commodities (“well, just tell me which the best one is and I’ll buy that”), but if you are interested in new artists who come along with new and personal things to say about this music, then I can recommend this with enthusiasm.”

Henry Fogel – Fanfare Magazine

***

“…It’s an amazing display of Liszt’s keyboard wizardry, demanding of the player’s exhaustive technical resources and staying power, which Agranovich brings to her performance in abundance… “

“Agranovich’s reading of the Sonata is a masterly and brilliant display of pianistic virtuosity–I can’t recall hearing any better–and Armonioso’s recording captures her Steinway piano in New York’s Sean Swinney Studios with lifelike presence. If it’s a Liszt Sonata of grand sweep and rhapsodic romantic gesture you crave, Agranovich can be counted on to deliver the goods.”

“…It’s not her speed as velocity that impresses, it’s the precision and clarity of her finger work. Also astonishing is her dynamic range breadth which ranges from the most hushed pp to the most thundering ff, and her ability to control the gradations of her crescendos and decrescendos to everything in between so that the extremes are always arrived at naturally.”

“The names of two or three pianists repeatedly crop up in connection with the “Paganini” Variations: Earl Wild—his 1963 Vanguard recording is still a benchmark—Shura Cherkassky, and György Cziffra. More recent contenders have been Boris Berezovsky, Garrick Ohlsson, and Alessio Bax…
Happily, I can report that Sophia Agranovich holds her own against all of them in terms of technical address, though I have to admit that, for me, no one is more electrifying than Wild. But there’s more to Agranovich’s performance than its technical spit and polish. At least as well as, and perhaps even better than the others, she is able to channel some of the intense concentration and control required just to play the notes into musical characterizations of the individual variations…”

“How she does it I don’t know, but Sophia Agranovich’s alchemy of mind-bending technical prowess and heart-melting emotional expressivity add up to one of the most glorious piano recitals this side of Elysium. Urgently recommended.”

“Agranovich’s technical address is never in question, but what I really like about her performance is that it strikes me as combining the best of both Brendel and Kempff. It’s as if she has absorbed from Brendel his organizational skill to bind the piece together and reveal its unifying formal principles; while from Kempff, she has absorbed the sense of philosophical and spiritual probing. Of course, Agranovich is her own and artist and brings to the score both commanding technique and poetic expression; but it’s the ideal balance she achieves between the intellectual and the emotional that makes Agranovich’s reading of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy so satisfying.”

Jerry DubinsFanfare Magazine