Sunday, 21 February 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, February 2010)

CHOPIN Waltzes
EMI Classics 51489922

It used to be commonplace to find a volume of Frederic Chopin’s Waltzes in every household endowed with a piano. As a group, these are his most approachable pieces, suitable for relative beginners as well as those with aspirations to virtuosity. For children, there’s that modest posthumous A minor Waltz, which is often mistaken to be a mazurka. There are five Waltzes in A flat major alone, all of which are gems of digital brilliance and well-suited for the concert hall.

The Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter placed second to Li Yundi at the 2000 Chopin International Piano Competition, but was awarded the arguably more coveted Irving S. Gilmore Award in 2007. In these often understated dances, she finds a certain tragic quality to match her supple and fluid fingers. There’s no better time than on Chopin’s 200th birth anniversary (which falls on 21 February) to enjoy his music.

Deutsche Grammophon
477 8727 (2CDs)

Tributes to Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) come thick and fast in his bicentenary year. This double-disc album assembles 18 of the Universal labels’ top pianists dead and alive for a well-programmed anthology of the French-Polish pianist-composer’s greatest solo piano music. From Sviatoslav Richter and Michelangeli come the Third Ballade (Op.47) and Second Scherzo (Op.31) respectively, a summation of Chopin’s heady blend of poetry and passion. Vladimir Horowitz and Emil Gilels supply a Mazurka (Op.17 No.4) and Polonaise (Op.40 No.1) each, poignant reminders of his unwavering nationalism.

Of the marquee artists, Maurizio Pollini has the lion’s share of 24 flawless minutes, performing the Heroic Polonaise (Op.53), First Ballade (Op.23) and lilting Barcarolle (Op.60). Helene Grimaud in Berceuse (Op.57) and Funeral March (from the Second Sonata, Op.35), and Maria Joao Pires with the Minute Waltz (Op.64 No.1), Fantaisie-Impromptu (Op.66) and a Nocturne (Op.37 No.2), get 15 and 14 minutes each. Seven Préludes (from Op.28) are shared by Martha Argerich, her teacher Friedrich Gulda and young Polish ace Rafal Blechacz, while honours are even for Vladimir Ashkenazy and Nelson Freire in four Études.

The youngest pianist here is the recently unveiled Alice Sara Ott, only 19, who gets to play the Waltz in C sharp minor (Op.64 No.2), with the most delicate of touches. Even mavericks Ivo Pogorelich and Lang Lang are included, whose views of the Third Scherzo (Op.39) and Nocturne (Op.27 No.2) demonstrate that Chopin’s music can more than survive their self-indulgence. Top notch playing all round, but the lack of sleeve-notes (all one gets are artist photographs and a George Sand quote) is regrettable.

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