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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Sonata no. 2 in b flat op. 35 – "Funeral March", 24 Preludes op. 28
Howard Shelley (piano)
Recorded 1987, location not given
REGIS RRC 1120 [63:00]



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There’s certainly a lot of gritty energy in the sonata. It might be considered a typical modern performance, the fast movements pushed beyond the tempi the likes of Rubinstein accustomed us to, the slow ones pulled back slower. In dynamics it also courts extremes, from the poundingly loud (a close recording makes it difficult to judge whether the pianist actually is "going through" the tone) to the intensely hushed, with not a lot between. It’s impressive in a way but in the last resort I’d rather hear a real Shostakovich sonata than a Chopin sonata touted out as one.

The Preludes are a slightly different matter. Shelley perhaps needs a little time to settle in, since the first prelude is badly sectionalised and there are some odd dynamics elsewhere in the first few. But from no. 6 onwards I began to respect this as a faithful and musical performance, the tempi all within the bounds of reason, the dynamics scrupulously observed and precious few liberties taken.

So why was I not more engaged? I can only explain this by recalling the words of a schoolboy who, in Jerome K. Jerome’s "Three Men on the Bummel", at the end of ten minutes reading a poem about a maiden who lived in a wood, can tell the professor no more than that it was "the usual sort of wood". The professor took a dim view of the boy’s answer; Jerome couldn’t see why it was not good enough. So, while some readers may take a dim view of me, I can only report that this is the usual sort of performance, with the usual sort of tempi, the usual sort of sound, the usual sort of rubato and so on. I can’t see any particular reason for not recommending it, nor any particular reason for recommending it either. It sounds like a fine performance, yet it fails to convince me that it actually is one. The free spirit of Cortot, the aristocratic ardour of Rubinstein, the loving care of Milkina, just to mention a few classic performances, can occasionally exasperate – the penalty for commanding the heights is that you risk a few troughs too – but they more often inspire. It’s awfully subjective of me but I hear only perspiration in this case.

I’m sorry to practically write off a disc about which there is little bad to say. Readers who normally respond to this pianist will maybe find a whole lot more in it than I did.

Christopher Howell



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