Before Steinway grand pianos existed, two of the leading makes were Erard and Pleyel – both French. Chopin liked them for different reasons. Playing an Erard from 1837, the Russian-born pianist Alexei Lubimov finds more power than expected in the stormiest passages of the Ballades, but it’s in the mesmerising lull of the Berceuse that the instrument really comes into its own. Never has that left-hand accompaniment sounded quite so haunting, nor the right hand so silvery: these seem like the music’s authentic qualities, and there is no sense of struggle against a mechanical opponent.
This recording of the complete Preludes of Frederick Chopin represents the debut on Telarc Classics of the highly regarded young Venezuelan-American pianist Vanessa Perez. In recent years she has been championed as one of the best young musical talents on the scene by the likes of legendary pianist Claudio Arrau and the great conductor Zubin Mehta.
Frédéric Chopin's music is closely associated with the piano and as a matter of fact most of his music is written for this instrument. French harpist Coline-Marie Orliac did not want to miss playing Chopin?s inspiring music and took the audacious task to transcribe it for harp. Among Chopin's signature works is her arrangement of the Ballade op. 23 No. 1, displaying to the listener her breathtaking virtuosity while always adding a fresh and more transparent sound to Chopin's music.
The pianist on this CD, Yulliana Avdeeva, is the winner of the Chopin piano competition in 2010. Checking the internet, you will find that the decision by the jury was controversial. Her playing was considered not to display the proper Chopin style, and too cool. I wasn't present at the competition, so I cannot write much about this. But having bought this CD, mainly because of use of old instruments, and the direction by the recently deceased icon of old music Frans Brüggen, I must say that I was totally blown away by the playing of Yulianna Avdeeva.
For while it would be idle to pretend that this 70-year-old virtuoso, struck down at the height of his career with psoriatic arthritis, still commands the velocity and reflex of his earlier years, his later Chopin and Liszt are a tribute to a devotion and commitment gloriously enriched by experience. The First Impromptu is piquantly voiced and phrased while the C sharp minor Etude, Op. 25 No. 7, could hardly be more hauntingly confided, more ‘blue’ or inturned. How you miss the repeat in the C sharp minor Mazurka, Op. 50 No. 3 (not Op. 15, as the jewel-case claims), given such cloudy introspection and if there are moments when you recall how Rubinstein – forever Chopin’s most aristocratic spokesman – can convey a world of feeling in a scarcely perceptible gesture, Janis’s brooding intensity represents a wholly personal, only occasionally overbearing, alternative; an entirely different point of view. Time and again he tells us that there are higher goods than surface polish or slickness and in the valedictory F minor Mazurka, Op. 68 No. 4 he conveys a dark night of the soul indeed, an emotion almost too desolating for public utterance… Janis is no less remarkable in Liszt, whether in the brief but intriguing Sans mesure (a first performance and recording), in a Sonetto 104 del Petrarca as tear-laden as any on record and in a final Liebestod of an exhausting ardour and focus.
Tatiana Shebanova, who also features in the Fryderyk Chopin Institute’s on-going Real Chopin series (see review special, p83), gets her own complete, modern instrument (as opposed to Real Chopin’s historic instruments) cycle on the Polish label Dux. Arranged in opus order, it presents a satisfying survey of Chopin’s development, and it spares the listener from (for example) a lack of variety in the usual hour-long sequence of waltzes.