Although I may have
reservations about certain aspects of
the performances on this disc, there
is little doubt that this is, in sheer
production terms, the best classical
DVD I have seen so far. Three pianists,
three locations, one producer (Karen
Whiteside for BBC Wales, although James
Whitbourn is the DVD producer) and 'three'
masterworks; three, that is, if one
groups Opp. 10 and 25 together under
the umbrella 'Etudes' - no Trois
Nouvelles Etudes here).
It falls to Alfredo
Perl, possibly the lesser-known of the
three pianists on show, to start things
off with the Op. 28 Pré
ludes. The lush setting of Hopetoun
House in Edinburgh is used here, in
daylight. The significance of that factor
will become evident later. One initially
sees Perl walking towards the piano
before launching into Op. 28. The only
production criticism I have is that
in between Preludes the screen goes
to black, with the next Prelude announced
in white letters. With so many Preludes
being so short and most, if not all,
pianists in performance will link some
together to form groups this rather
interrupts the overall experience.
Two things strike the
viewer at once as the C major begins:
this has got to be the shiniest Steinway
ever; and do we really want to see Perl's
facial expresions? Some might find his
mouthing, rather like a goldfish, undistracting,
but not this reviewer.
Perl's Chopin distinctly
grew on me. His shading of the A minor
is very sensitive, there is good cantabile
in the slow B minor; 'now you're going
to play the cello', as my teacher used
to say before I embarked on it! The
so-called 'Raindrop' is beautifully
shaped, with just the right amount of
build in the C sharp minor middle section.
The final recitative works well. I like
the way the camera starts from outside
the room, moving slowly towards then
onto Perl. Should anyone doubt Perl's
technique, let them try No. 16 (close-up
camera-work on the amazingly rapid fingers).
If the left-hand in
the G major does not quite scamper and
if No. 11 could be a tad lighter; if
some of the accents in No. 17 feel forced,
if the tone is a little tinny in No.
22 (I believe this to be Perl, not the
recording), these are minor caveats.
Freddy Kempf seems,
as a musician, to promise so much, then
never quite deliver. I referred to 'interpretative
holes' in his December Monday lunchtime
concert at the Wigmore review.
It included the Op. 25 Etudes . Kempf’s
BIS SACD brought similar comments
review . There is no denying
there is plenty to admire in these Etudes,
right from the rich bass of Op. 10 No.
1 through the melancholy No. 6 to the
final 'Revolutionary'. And the rich
setting helps the mood, of course as
does the lighting. The T-Shirted No.
2 in A minor is in broad daylight; there's
a morning feel to the light. The famous
No. 3 in E takes to night-time; highly
appropriate, of course, and it does
work. Kempf wears black here, by the
way. Twilight also helps No. 6, mentioned
above. The changes of 'scene' (time
of day or night) seem very well chosen.
I remain less convinced as to Kempf's
decision to change outfit now and then,
though. It more raises the eyebrows
than makes any contribution.
Op. 25 brings another
excellent feast for the eyes. There
are the sepia-tinged octaves of No.
10; hands a blur, fire in background;
how symbolic is that?. The blue (twilight?)
of No. 5 contrasts subtly with the near-pitch-darkness
of the Nocturne-like No. 7. The aerial
beginning of the final C minor is striking.
This is all highly impressive. Amongst
all this there is not the slightest
hint of trickery; it all just helps
the experience. And when one listens
to Kempf, one hears a top Chopin player
in the making. Keep watching.
A change of piano manufacturer
to Hewitt's favoured Fazioli, and the
loneliness of playing to a deserted
but still lovely Wimbledon Theatre takes
us to Chopin's B flat minor Sonata.
The opening is fascinating. Instead
of walking on, she appears out of darkness,
already seated at the piano. As the
dark opening gestures emerge, a single
spot-light shines down on her. Hewitt's
playing is carefully crafted and equally
carefully controlled, her technique
textbook, her back textbook-straight,
her weighting exemplary. This is not
the most phenomenally exciting Chopin
you will have heard, but on its own
terms it works perfectly. Hewitt’s structural
sense is exact, and she refused to dawdle
where lesser players might falter. It
is a shame that the second movement
needed more excitement. Here there is
perhaps the feeling that Hewitt is being
just that little bit careful. Similarly
the third movement, for all its niceties,
needs to be a frightening Funeral March.
Here it is an ominous processional that
does not reach its full climax, yet
the 'ray of light', redeeming melody
is just that - and we do see Hewitt
with literally much more physical light
around her. The shifting finale, with
just a touch of pedal, is appropriately
A good variety of camera
angles, nothing tricksy, keeps attention
firmly on the task in hand.
A memorable DVD. Musically
none of the three pianists leaves a
definitive version, but each gives much
to enjoy. The real triumph comes in
the production values, which are astonishing
in variety and integrity. Do see and