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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Douze Etudes Op. 10 (à son ami Franz Liszt)
1. No. 1 in C major, allegro
2. No. 2 in A minor, allegro
3. No. 3 in E major, lento ma non troppo
4. No. 4 in C sharp minor, presto
5. No. 5 in G flat major, vivace
6. No. 6 in E flat minor, andante con molto espressione
7. No. 7 in C major, vivace
8. No. 8 in F major, allegro
9. No. 9 in F minor, allegro molto agitato
10. No. 10 in A flat major, vivace assai
11. No. 11 in E flat major, allegretto
12. No. 12 in C minor, allegro con fuoco
12 Etudes Op. 25 (A Madame la Comtesse d'Agoult)
13. No. 1 in A flat major, allegro sostenuto
14. No. 2 in F minor, presto
15. No. 3 in F major, allegro
16. No. 4 in A minor, agitato
17. No. 5 in E minor, vivace
18. No. 6 in G sharp minor, allegro
19. No. 7 in C sharp minor, lento
20. No. 8 in D flat major, vivace assai
21. No. 9 in G flat major, allegro assai
22. No. 10 in B minor, allegro con fuoco
23. No. 11 in A minor, allegro con brio
24. No. 12 in C minor, allegro molto con fuoco
Trois Nouvelles Études,
composées pour la Méthode de Moscheles et Fétis
25. No. 1 in F minor, andantino
26. No. 2 in D flat major, allegretto
27. No. 3 in A flat major, allegretto

Alfred Cortot (piano)
Recorded Studio No 3 Abbey Road, London, 1933-34 and 1949
CONCERT ARTIST/FIDELIO RECORDINGS CACH 7008-2 [60.12]

 

They still inspire debate, these pre-war Études, and doubtless they always will. Cortot the fallible poet still rouses animus in those who decry the occasionally faltering fingers and in those who cannot or will not discover the myriad beauties, tonal and expressive, that he finds in the music. Of course there are things that will strike the listener as perplexing or unconvincing; I happen to find the smooth cantabile and rubati of Op 10 No.3 rather forced and unnatural sounding and Op.10 No.12 not on quite so exalted a level as the rest of the set. Yes, Cortot’s voicings can sometimes become convoluted – a case in point is Op.25 No.5 and Op.25 No.11 is hardly a model of digital infallibility.

And yet Op.25 No.7, the rich C sharp minor, is a minor miracle of the alchemist’s art, the light and shade that informs Op.10 No.2 is painterly in its finesse, the life that teems in the middle voices in the C sharp minor Op.10 No.4 is verdant and magnificent, the G flat major from the same set bejewelled in its brilliance and brio. For those who decry his technique, his octave study (Op. 25 No.6, G sharp minor) is representative of his virtuoso equipment. The G flat major (Op.25 No. 9) is deliciously fluent and free. Op.25 No.12 wonderfully leonine and grand. The superlatives are almost limitless.

So, a famous set and famous sets have a habit of receiving multiple releases. Some previous sets have been guilty of using excessive filtering on these 1933-34 sides. The French EMI LP, from the Référence series, served well but its CD counterpart, a six CD set, relied too heavily on Cedar. Enterprise, Andante, Music and Arts, Pearl and Biddulph have devoted releases to the pre-War Chopin sides. Philips’ Great Pianists of the Century has the Etudes, well transferred, but in a double set coupled with Schumann and Liszt. This new entrant comes from Concert Artist and includes the three Nouvelles Études recorded in 1949. They have clearly utilised good quality pressings and applied a judicious amount of noise suppression. There is, set against the original 78s, a slight degree of airlessness in the treble, but this is undoubtedly to minimise shellac noise. The big gain in this transfer is in the middle and lower frequencies, which were relatively light in 1933 and 1934. They give a lifelike immediacy to Cortot’s playing and bring out those voicings with greater dynamism than the EMI transfers, LP and CD. A direct recommendation will depend on how much, or how little, of Cortot’s Chopin you want. A representative Chopin collection without these sets is inconceivable and you could do a lot worse than acquaint yourself with this release.

Jonathan Woolf

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