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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Great Pianists - Cortot: Volume 4
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor Op.35 (1839) [17:01]
Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor Op.58 (1844) [23:22]
Six Chants Polonaise Op. 74 (arr. Liszt S480/R145)
No. 2. Frühling (Wiosna, Spring) [2:34]
No. 3. Das Ringlein (Pierscien, The Ring) [2:05]
No. 5. Mein Freuden (Moja pieszczotka, My Joys) [3:23]
Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22 [4:49]
Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53, "Heroic" [6:30]
Polonaise No. 7 in A flat major, Op. 61, "Polonaise-fantasie" [9:43]
Alfred Cortot (piano)
rec. London, June and December 1928 (Sonata No.2); July 1933 (Sonata No.3); March 1939 (Chants Polonaise); Camden, New Jersey, February 1923 (Grande Polonaise); London, July 1933 (Polonaise No.6) and London, 1947 (Polonaise No.7)
NAXOS 8.111065 [69:28]

This is the fourth of a five-volume series devoted to Cortot’s Chopin on 78. It spins a surprise, and a very welcome one, in disinterring the least well known of the pianist’s traversals of the Sonata in B flat minor. As with the Ballades in the fifth volume we hear a seldom-reissued performance, here from 1928, in preference to the oft-heard 1933 recording.
The copy used is a touch noisy but never enough to impede the magnificence – and individuality – of the conception and execution. The recording was not, even for the time, especially good. Jonathan Summers’s notes relate that the majority of sides emanated from the relatively poor Kingsway Hall sessions and not from those held in the acoustically preferable C studio of the Small Queen’s Hall. This, however, is a relative matter and can be sublimated by virtue of the performance – noble, dashing, passionate, colouristically a little compromised by the recording quality (about which nothing can be done now) but triumphant.
The 1933 Third Sonata had previously been recorded in 1931; an earlier 1930 Parisian attempt had been unsuccessful. This is an even better performance than the companion sonata. Cortot moderates between the expressive poles of the sonata with the most daring and passionate of rubati. His tone remains singing and here the better recording quality really tells, allowing the subtlety of colouration to be heard. In the context of this level of playing the familiar wrong notes – especially in the Largo – are of little account.
The three Chants Polonais include one never issued at the time on 78 – My Joys. Then there is the acoustic and abridged Grande Polonaise Brillante recorded in Camden, New Jersey in 1923 – and recorded let me add very well indeed.  Regarding the Polonaise No. 7 in A flat major, the "Polonaise-fantasie" one should note that this has also been issued on APR 5571 in their series devoted to Cortot’s post-War sides. This Obert-Thorn transfer sounds very much better than the rival work and is strongly to be preferred. The performance itself is less captivating and exciting than the pre-War selection.
This has been a first class series and Cortot admirers need have no doubt that the five single discs represents a valuable repository of some of the most charismatic and resourceful Chopin playing on record.
Jonathan Woolf

Naxos Historical Great Pianists series


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