Thursday, 19 April 2018

CD Review (The Straits Times, April 2018)

Sony Classical 88985369352 / ****

There are many recordings of Chopin's 24 Études (Op.10 & 25), but young German pianist Martin Stadtfeld's album has a major difference. Inserted before ten of Chopin's studies are short original improvisations, which seem to sound stylistically foreign but segue seamlessly into the Chopin pieces. In certain cases, a Chopin Étude ends but the sound imperceptibly shifts into a different musical landscape, often in the same key but eventually modulates to another tonality for the next Étude to emerge.

This practice of “preluding” is not new, previously employed by historical pianists like Wilhelm Backhaus, and more recently in recitals here by Kenneth Hamilton and Steven Spooner. There is no jazz technique involved, but a playful use of pre-existing keyboard textures, chords and harmonic progressions. In a way, Chopin's well-known C minor Prélude (Op.28 No.20) seems like the ideal “preluding” subject, thus famously exploited by Rachmaninov in his Chopin Variations.

Stadtfelt's technical mastery in the 24 Études are as good as most of his contemporaries, although one might find the E major Étude (Op.10 No.3) too fast and unsentimental, while the F minor (Op.10 No.9) a tad indolent. This 70 minute recital is otherwise a fascinating listen.     

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