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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
24 Preludes, Op. 28 (complete)
7 Etudes: Op. 25, No. 1 in A flat major; No. 2 in F minor; No. 6 in G sharp minor; No. 12 in C minor
Op. 10, No. 6 in E flat minor; No. 4 in C sharp minor; No. 5 in G flat major
Dame Moura Lympany, piano
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London, March 1995
WARNER/APEX 2564 60158-2 [60:32]

Comparisons (Preludes)
Argerich/Deutsche Grammophon,
Freire/Sony, Katsaris/Sony, Bolet/Philips

Comparisons (Etudes)
Cherkassky/Philips, Ashkenazy/Melodiya,
Novaes/Vox, Arrau/EMI, Pollini/Deutsche Grammophon,
François/EMI

Within the past year, I accomplished a review project covering over 30 versions of Chopin’s Opus 28 Preludes; the review has 19 Parts and can be found on the Classical Net website. Without going into detail, my conclusions were that four particular versions stood tallest among the rest: Martha Argerich, Nelson Freire, Cyprien Katsaris, and Jorge Bolet.

I was aware that Dame Moura Lympany had recorded Chopin’s Preludes for Erato, but the recording was no longer in print. Naturally, I was very pleased to receive this new reissue of the Erato recording for review, now under the Warner/Apex label. My anticipation was so great that I bumped every other disc in my review stack and immediately started digging into Lympany’s performances.

These are wonderful readings with two minor quibbles I might as well get out of the way at this time. Each Prelude is given a mainstream performance. You won’t hear anything new, but you might well hear details you haven’t in the past. The four Preludes I am luke-warm about are all powerful ones: the 5th, 8th, 12th and 24th Preludes. In each, the intensity levels either slacken at times or are simply not sufficiently strong and possess little wildness.

With the negatives accomplished, let me tell you a little about the superb aspects of Lympany’s set of performances. The inner voice projection and voice interaction is exceptional at all times. Listen to the quicksilver 3rd Prelude, and you will hear new voice connections. The 2nd, 4th, and 6th Preludes are given a totally bleak portrayal by Lympany, and her regal double dotting in the 9th Prelude is infectious. Lympany never misses an opportunity to convey the beauty of Chopin’s music as evidenced by her gorgeous performances of the 13th, 15th, and 19th Preludes. Also, the pristine beauty of the 23rd Prelude has never shone more brightly in any other version on record.

Having earlier scolded Lympany for not always delivering full power and intensity, I must admit that her energy accumulation and release are tremendous in the 14th and 22nd Preludes. If only she had carried this intensity into the pieces I mentioned above, her version would surely be among the elite.

Lympany’s strengths fully apply to her Etude selections, and the misgivings I have apply as well. Here’s a short synopsis of Lympany’s readings:

The Etude in A flat major is one of the most popular of the set, and that’s perfectly understandable. With its swirling arpeggios surrounding the gorgeous melody line, the A flat major offers a wealth of emotional themes including rapture, despair, and danger. Lympany extends the piece to almost three minutes, and there are quite a few exceptional versions of slow tempo including those from Vladimir Ashkenazy, Samson François, and Guiomar Novaes. Each of these three has in common a strong degree of rapture and urgency, qualities that are in abundant supply in the Lympany reading that offers superb elasticity of phrasing and incisive musical swells from the arpeggios.

Lympany is also exceptional in the Etude in F minor, which is a rapid-fire study in triplets. I tend to favor the more exciting versions such as the Novaes and Pollini performances. Lympany is not one for excitement, but she more than makes up for it with her outstanding detail and interaction of voices. Also, you won’t find a more beautiful and lyrical interpretation.

The Etude in G sharp minor is known as "Thirds", because chromatic thirds are the ingredients that fuel the music. As such, this isn’t one of Chopin’s more lyrical etudes, but it does possess an eerie and mysterious nature and the interaction of voices can be very interesting. Claudio Arrau conveys exceptional detail and interaction of voices in addition to finding as much lyricism as possible. If a version delivering a rush of adrenalin is preferred, the fast Ashkenazy interpretation should ignite your energy source. Lympany’s performance is more along the lines of Arrau with fine detail and poetry. She is less exuberant than most, but she gives the piece a tenderness and poignancy not often found on disc.

As with the final Prelude of Opus 28, Chopin closes out his Opus 25 set with a big bang. Known as the "Ocean Etude", we are dealing with an ocean of immense power, steadfast determination and wild abandon. Played by pianists such as François and Ashkenazy, this C minor piece is furious and brutal. Lympany is well off that mark, giving a more modest interpretation along the lines of Shura Cherkassky. However, his level of tension and nuance is greater than Lympany’s.

Cherkassky is also more effective than Lympany in the Etude in E flat minor. I love how he uses a very slow tempo with wide intervals to offer a bleak and stark interpretation. Lympany’s version flows like silk, but she doesn’t convey the music’s emotional core.

Lympany’s general playing style in Chopin is well represented in her interpretation of the speedy Etude in C sharp minor, which is abundant in tension and excitement. Playing her version next to Ashkenazy’s clearly reveals that Ashkenazy is the one who delivers the high level of excitement and abandon missing in her interpretation. Lympany does convey exceptional detail and an uncanny sense for the long line of the music, but her intensity of emotion is not at peak levels. She is at all times tasteful, but this quality has its drawbacks.

Last on the program is the Etude in G flat major, a sunny and effervescent piece where the right hand strikes only black keys excepting for one F major note. Lympany could be more bubbly, but she again provides exceptional voice interaction.

The recorded sound is clear and rather stark, offering little warmth. In essence, it is an ‘examine every note’ soundstage well suited for a Rosalyn Tureck or Nelson Freire. However, Lympany’s warm pianism does not make for an excellent match.

In conclusion, I heartily recommend the Lympany disc except for those who must have Chopin’s most extreme and intense thoughts on a consistent basis. Lympany’s natural poetry combined with superb detail and projection of inner voices makes for an attractive addition to one’s Chopin library. If I have seemed not quite taken with the disc, it’s just that I tend to be very particular with performances of Chopin’s music in that he offers so much (intensity, diversity, beauty, detail) and I want all of it. Dame Moura Lympany comes closer than most in providing the total package.

Don Satz



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