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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

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Aix Records

http://www.aixrecords.com/catalog/chopin.html

Fryderik CHOPIN (1810 - 1849)
Ballade #1 in g, Op 23 (1835) [5.36]
Ballade #2 in F, Op 38 (1839) [8.24]
Ballade #3 in Ab, Op 47 (1841) [9.40]
Ballade #4 in f, Op 52 (1842) [4.59]
Anita Chang, piano
Recorded at the Zipper Auditorium, Los Angeles, California, USA, 31 August 2000.
Video track and four audio tracks: MLP 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 "Audience" Mix, DTS "Stage" Mix, PCM Stereo.
Printed technical notes and comments on performer in English.
On screen biography, session photographs, and commentary on Chopin by Dr. (University of Texas) Chang as well as complete video of the performance.
www.aixrecords.com
Mark Waldrep: producer, recording and mastering engineer and artistic direction.
playable on DVD players and DVD-Audio players. Not playable on CD players.
AIX/IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT DVD-AUDIO/VIDEO AIX 80014 [28.39]

Comparison Recording:
Tamás Vásáry, piano BBC Music Magazine CD Volume V, No. 9

Elsewhere I have praised Tamás Vásáry for playing the music of Chopin as though it were by Schubert. Are the Ballades Schubert? Well, yes, in a funny kind of way they are, and I do prefer Vásáry on these works also. But these are among Chopin’s finest works, and the work of a genius invites — no, requires — a multiplicity of approaches. Chang’s is a somewhat cooler but equally valid approach, one I am glad to have heard, one I find much merit in. Her piano tone and the nobility of her drama and the clarity of her phrasing, captured so brilliantly in high resolution sound, are exquisite throughout.

The artist began piano studies at five years old and played her first public concert at the age of eight. She was formerly Assistant Professor of Piano at Westfield State College in Massachusetts and currently is on the faculty of California State University at the Dominguez Hills campus — Dominguez Hills being one of those new huge residential cities which surround Los Angeles and which were nothing but sagebrush and jackrabbits 30 years ago. The video performance reveals an interesting feature: Dr. Chang changes her hairdo and dress for each of the four works. I confess I am not and probably never will be able to evaluate critically the match but at least it shows a systematic mind and a sense of complete dedication. The short timing of this disk must be balanced against the fact of its having four audio versions in high resolution sound plus a complete video track in addition to still session photographs and information screens, plus a set-up utility for balancing your speakers.

It is a pleasure to watch Dr. Chang work and that is what we do throughout, we simply watch her play, with no sunsets, flowers, or cute doggies to "interpret" the music for us. The microphones are visible but have been carefully placed so as not to intrude into the picture, but there are quite a few of them. Since each audio version required a full set of microphones, it looks like about a dozen in all.

To see how this disk would play in a regular DVD (video) player I put it, with the blue side facing up, in my new Sony DVD/SACD player which contains a 96kHz audio chip and DTS capability. There is also a firm notice in the booklet that it does not (sniff!) play DVD-Audio disks. The usual piracy warning appears on the video screen and then the AIX logo (unfortunately a noisy one!) and then the audio/video set-up menu. It doesn’t matter what you select here since at any time you can switch back and forth between the showcard announcement and the live picture with the ANGLE button, or between the "Stage" and "Auditorium" mixes with the AUDIO button. The former makes the piano sound like it is actually right there in your music room, with appropriate acoustics, and the latter places the piano a little distance away in the front speakers with only a reverberant sound in the rear speakers. I preferred the stage mix, as the piano sound filled the room with exquisite fullness and detail, but some might prefer the auditorium sound. Or you might change your mind with your mood.

When playing the disk with the red side facing up in a DVD-Audio player, one has the same options with even better quality sound, although it seemed that the video quality was somewhat lower, but this could be due to its being viewed here on a different set.

This disk is not packaged in the medium tall jewelcase that seems to be the standard for DVD-Audio, but in a taller clear jewelcase nearer the size of the customary DVD package, presumably because since it will play as a DVD video and you might want to shelve it along with your other ones.

Paul Shoemaker



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