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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Polonaise No.11 in G minor [2’01]
Polonaise No.12 in B flat major [2’51]
Polonaise No.13 in A flat major [3’52]
Polonaise No.14 in G sharp minor [3’34]
Polonaise No. 15 in B flat minor [4’56]
Polonaise No.16 in G flat major [6’56]
Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major Op.61 [14’19]
Bolero in A minor, Op.19 [7’35]
Berceuse in D flat major, Op.57 [4’18]
Tarantella in A flat major, Op.43 [2’56]
Allegro de concert in A major, Op.46 [11’32]
Nikolai Demidenko (piano)
Recorded at St. George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 21-22 Feb 1992

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Hyperion continues its re-issuing of Demidenko’s early-90s recordings of Chopin piano music with this enterprising disc. Actually, it could be enterprising to some and frustrating to others, as almost all the Polonaises a casual buyer may want are all missing. What we get are all the composer’s early efforts at the form, some dating from when he was a precocious 7-year-old, juxtaposed with one established masterpiece, the Polonaise-Fantasy, and a miscellaneous selection that are mostly worth having.

All the early Polonaises are quite short affairs and follow a fairly strict structural format. They’re attractive, but don’t expect the gritty memorability of, say, the more mature Op.44 in F sharp minor. One of the most endearing here is the G flat, but even that has had doubts cast as to its authenticity. Demidenko clearly enjoys himself, though he can be a shade aggressive in some places. When we come to the great Polonaise-Fantasy, he gets up to his old trick of muting some of the big fortissimo chords down to more like mezzo-forte, something he did to better effect in his Scherzos disc. It’s got some good things in it, but ultimately I don’t find him as convincing as Pollini (DG, coupled with a selection of later, more famous Polonaises).

The shorter individual pieces are also a mixed bag. He plays the Bolero (more akin, in Chopin’s treatment, to a Polonaise) with real relish and dash, producing cascades of glittering passagework. But then, a tiny masterpiece like the delectable Berceuse is slightly disfigured by not maintaining the ostinato pulse that Chopin obviously intended, Demidenko indulging in unnecessary rubato from one ‘variation’ to the next. I much prefer Perahia’s beautifully controlled reading on Sony, where simplicity of utterance and understatement are the order of the day.

So, a bit of a mixed bag perhaps to be sampled first. Excellent piano sound and recording.

Tony Haywood

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