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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810 - 1849)
Twelve Études, Op. 10 (1833)
#1 in C [2.01]; #2 in a [1.24]; #3 in E [3.51]; #4 in c# [2.01]; #5 in gb [1.40] "Black Keys"; #6 in eb [2.25]; #7 in C [1.29]; #8 in F [2.21]; #9 in f [2.09]; #10 in Ab [2.12]; #11 in Eb [2.15]; #12 in c [2.32] "Revolutionary";
Twelve Études, Op. 25 (1837): #1 (#13) in Ab [2.24] ["Aeolian Harp"]; #2 (#14) in f [1.35]; #3 (#15) in F [1.40]; #4 (#16) in a [1.42]; #5 (#17) in e [2.53]; #6 (#18) in g# [1.54] "Thirds"; #7 (#19) in c# [5.08]; #8 (#20) in Db [1.08] "Sixths"; #9 (#21) in Gb [1.00] ["Butterfly"]; #10 (#22) in b [3.52] "Octaves"; #11 (#23) in a [3.29] ["Winter Wind"]; #12 (#24) in c [2.38]
Murray Perahia, piano
Piano Technicians: Andrew Granger, Jake Jackson.
Recorded in 2.0 DSD stereo 4 July 2001 Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London, UK.
SACD 2.0 stereo Playable only on SACD players

Also available on regular CD, Sony MK 61885
SONY SS 61885 [55.54]
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Comparison Recordings:
Guiomar Novaes, Vox CDX3 3501
Swingle Singers, Op 10 #6, Op 25 #2; Philips LP
Tamás Vásáry, Scherzos (4); [OP] DG 2535285*

If some readers are upset over the awful things I say about Beethoven (and if you think the published reviews are bad you should read the ones that donít get published) wait until they hear what I have to say about Chopin.

One might keep several things in mind: Chopin learned to play the piano by practising Bachís Wohltemperierte Klavier. Consequently, as well as subsequently, he was the first composer to write preludes without fugues, in acknowledged homage to Bach. And keep in mind that "Études de piano" is a passable French translation of "Klavierübung," ... and the Opus 10 was published in Leipzig! Keep also in mind that the only music Chopin had heard which sounded at all like his own was Schubertís. Liszt probably learned more from Chopin than the other way around, and like so much of what Liszt learned he ran with it like a dog with a rope of sausages into his own private and public ecstasies.

Chopin realised (as did Bach and Charles Rosen) that the keyboard was not merely a medium through which music passed but that, in the athletic physical struggle to make the keys sound, music was forged. Keyboard music is a finger ballet, a crucible, a military manoeuvre. Therefore in the effort of difficult keyboard exercises lies a doorway to profound expression that cannot be found and entered any other way. Even Debussy acknowledged this and utilised it, as did Brahms. Of Course Chopin could relax and have fun like the best of them, perhaps better than most of them. And, of course, the violin and especially the cello have their own corresponding physical musical ritual.

So I divide Chopinís work into three groups: The Scherzos, (and perhaps the Ballades and maybe even the Third Sonata) which are in homage of Schubertís Impromptus and should be played primarily as though they were by Schubert - an extension of his aesthetic. The Études (perhaps to a lesser extent also the Preludes) are Chopinís serious musical statement, standing, as he was, in the shadow of Bach and looking to the future. And, all the rest, the interminable waltzes, nocturnes, polonaises, the first two sonatas, concertos, etc., which were just fodder for the music mill, to try to make some money. While they make fine teaching pieces and amateur recital pieces, they deserve to be ignored. If I never have to sit through a one of them again Iíll be delighted. Concert recitalists love them because they are so easy to play and sound so difficult to play, amateur pianists love them because they are so easy to play badly they can sound like theyíre "really trying," and the audience love them because they sound like classical music and like pop tunes at the same time.

So, standing here before the Études, I take off my hat and kneel down to two geniuses, Chopin and Perahia and reflect on the remaining mystery in these works. Why is it that Brazilians play them best? Upon reflection Brazil and Poland have some things in common: A highly developed national music which embodies an irrepressible rhythmic energy ó A sense of never being respected as nations as much as they deserve to be (Poland having been several times devoured and Brazil having been ignored) and consequently a bursting pride in their national cultures ó And a profoundly mystical and somewhat fatalistic religious culture. When Villa-Lobos tried to write true Brazilian music he found he had to invent entirely new forms, and his music still generally bewilders European performers and listeners. Chopin in writing Polish music had to invent new forms as well, but his have been well assimilated.

For years my favourite Chopin recording has been Novaesí recording of the complete Études ó in fact it has been the only Chopin I ever listen to by choice. Now Murray Perahia brings me almost the same performance in piano sound so richly sensual that one does not listen to it so much as bathe in it.

A final mystery: why does Perahia do such a magnificent overall job of performing these works and then fall down so miserably on just one, the Op 25 #6? Well, I still have Novaesí recording which is supreme and I can listen to that one instead.

Before you send me hate mail, please be advised that I am aware that I have overstated my case, and that works like the Ballades, the Fantasie Impromptu, have much in them worthy of defence. And I enjoy the Prelude and Fugue in a minor, especially when I play it on the harpsichord in baroque style to get even for all those hours of bad piano Bach.

*If I may be permitted one more mystery, why is Vasaryís finest Chopin recording the only one that has never been reissued on CD? Are you listening DG?

Paul Shoemaker

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