Wednesday 19 July 2017

CD Review (The Straits Times, July 2017)

CHOPIN Works for Piano & Orchestra
NDR Elbphilharmonie / Krzysztof Urbanski
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6824 / *****1/2

The two piano concertos of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), while very popular, have been over-recorded. It is thus a welcome change to hear the other four of the Polish pianist-composer's works for piano and orchestra. Composed during his teenaged years and early-20s, these were conceived as showpieces for a rising virtuoso. 

The best-known is the Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Brillante (Op.22), often heard as a solo work. Tacking together two completely different pieces, a nocturne-like cantabile and extroverted digital display are keenly contrasted.

Variations On La Ci Darem From Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Op.2) is heard on occasion. A work so inventive and scintillating, Robert Schumann hailed, “Hats off, a genius!” after hearing it for the first time. The true rarities are the Krakowiak (Op.14), a fast Polish folk-dance and Fantasy on Polish Airs (Op.13), with Chopin's nationalism proudly worn like a badge during his touring years. 

These receive marvellous performances filled with insight and vitality by young Polish-Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, who had previously recorded Chopin's 24 √Čtudes to great success. The German orchestral accompaniment led by fellow Pole Krzsztof Urbanski is by no means perfunctory, adding to a pleasurable hour of easy listening.    

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