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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Variations on "Là ci darem la Mano" from Mozart’s "Don Giovanni", Op. 2 (1827)
Fantasia on Polish Airs, Op. 13 (1828)
Krakowiak, Grand Rondeau de Concert, Op. 14 (1828)
Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, Op. 22 (1831/1834)
Natasha Paremski, piano
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
Recorded at Moscow Radio Studio No. 5, February 2003
BEL AIR MUSIC 2031 [65:15]

Comparison Recording: Arrau/Inbal/Philips

Naxos has frequently recorded the conductor Dmitry Yablonsky in Russian repertoire in recent years. He has to his credit many discs including ones of Myaskovsky Symphonies, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, Arensky Suites, Glazunov Piano Concertos and a brand new release of the Vainberg and Myaskovsky Violin Concertos. Reviewers have been rather hard on Yablonsky, highlighting a wide range of reservations concerning tempos that are either too slow or too fast, a lack of patience, excessive drive and underinflection.

To my surprise, the small label Bel Air has released a new recording of Dmitry Yablonsky conducting four of Chopin’s works for piano and orchestra. I was quite glad to get this disc for review and hear how Yablonsky interprets the famous Polish composer. I don’t mind saying that he does a highly creditable job.

Yablonsky’s recording is an all-Russian affair with Natasha Paremski handling the piano part. She started taking piano lessons at the age of four and immigrated to the United States in 1995 where she studied with Earl Wild and Oxana Yablonskya. Paremski is a mere sixteen years of age, but she already is competitive with alternative versions. Also, there is little need to worry that Paremski does not have a wealth of life experiences to draw upon when interpreting her Chopin program. With little exception, the music stays clear of deeply disturbing emotional themes that require a mature person’s consideration.

Yablonsky isn’t the only person featured on the disc who gets some bad press. Poor Chopin is routinely raked over the coals for his lack of expertise in orchestration. Even in the ever-popular two Piano Concertos, his orchestral contributions are referred to as unimaginative, dutiful and lacking in color. I won’t attempt to dispute this point of view. The fact is that Chopin was not a great composer for the orchestra; he was simply a great composer, and this overriding feature shines through in each of his works for piano and orchestra.

Chopin’s trademark for continuous invention, transcendent fluidity and a seamless flow are found in each of the four programmed works on the Bel Air disc. The first piece, a set of variations on one of Mozart’s most famous duets, is very unusual in that it has a two-part introduction that lasts almost six minutes. Also, Chopin shows his creativity through his transformation of Mozart’s music. Using his entire palette of magic, Chopin makes this duet into a wide spectrum of colors and purposes. He sparkles, entices, cajoles, contemplates, places demands and wages war on us.

Claudio Arrau is consistently engaging, fluid, and tuned in to the myriad of themes offered by Chopin. Inbal and the London Philharmonic Orchestra also do not disappoint, giving us the full sweep of the work. Yablonsky and Paremski are also highly enjoyable. They offer Chopin’s exuberance at close to full tilt, and Paremski is particularly poetic in the slower and more relaxed passages. Her fluidity is not yet at Arrau’s level, but that is to be expected. With little exception, I don’t find Yablonsky’s tempos wayward or that he drives the music forward too insistently.

However, there are a couple of reservations on my part. The performance of the basic theme is on the slow side and somewhat plodding; there’s much more ‘lift’ in Arrau’s performance. My other complaint is that both Yablonsky and Paremski sound like they are ‘tuning out’ at a few points, as if their interest in the music has been superceded by the arrival of lunch or a new stock market tip. I suppose that this effect is what other reviewers have noticed from Yablonsky, an inexplicable under-inflection that can give his performances a static quality. In this case, Paremski seems perfectly content to go with Yablonsky’s flow.

Although Chopin spent much of his life outside Poland, he always harbored a deep love for his country and its culture. Quite a few of his compositions possess the affection he had for his native land, and the "Fantasia on Polish Airs" is amongst them. In its first section, the orchestra opens its wings with dignity and warmth and then bows to the piano that plays the Polish Air. Eventually, the orchestra returns to repeat the Air, while the piano offers a delightful series of supporting adornments. Three additional sections are presented, but the one that entirely wins my heart is the Polish to the core 2nd Section. It conveys a rock-solid love for Chopin’s native land delivered with a great blend of tenderness, security, and uplifting faith.

Both Yablonsky and Paremski stay alert this time around, and I actually prefer their performance to the Arrau/Inbal. The Fantasia is akin to what I like to call ‘liquid gold’, and Paremski pours it out deliciously. Her 2nd Section is the best I’ve heard on record, conveying so much love and ardor for Chopin’s homeland that I almost feel compelled to book a flight to Warsaw. Arrau and Inbal play well, but I don’t detect much fervor in their readings.

In the Krakowiak, Chopin takes a dance style from Krakow and subjects it to rondo form. The introduction is gorgeous, and the following three dances of the rondo have an irresistible vivaciousness. A few of Chopin’s runs are quite long and repetitive, but the overall impression is one of exuberant joy. I have bungled my way through the solo piano version that Chopin wrote, and it’s a fun piece to play. Paremski and Yablonsky are again highly impressive, surely having a great time taking the plunge into this delectable musical brew.

Chopin’s "Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise" is a ‘cut and paste’ work in that Chopin wrote the Grande Polonaise in 1831 and then pasted the unrelated 1834 Andante Spianato in front of the Polonaise. Although not thematically connected, the combined work is one of Chopin’s most popular creations, and the Grande Polonaise was the concluding piece of music to the Oscar Awards winning movie "The Pianist". Paremski and Yablonsky continue their rewarding ways with that ‘liquid gold’ effect I mentioned earlier that is particularly stunning in Paremski’s solo piano Andante Spianato.

In conclusion, this new Bel Air disc gives us highly entertaining and totally idiomatic music-making throughout its sixty-five minute length. Dmitry Yablonsky gives one of his best-recorded performances to date, and the young Natasha Paremski is clearly an outstanding pianist we will be hearing from again in the future. Another plus for the disc is that the soundstage is warm and vibrant, just perfect for these early Chopin works.

I have never seen any Bel Air discs in the local Albuquerque stores, but the company’s recordings may be purchased on-line directly at Bel Air’s e-mail address is


Don Satz


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