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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Twenty-Four Preludes Op.28 [33.47]
Prelude in C sharp minor Op.45 [4.12]
Prelude in D flat major Op.28 No.15 [4.44]
Berceuse in D flat major Op.57 [4.09]
No 1 in A flat major Op.29 [3.47]
No.2 in F sharp majorOp.36 [5.01]
No.3 in G flat major Op.51 [4.32]
Fantasie-Impromptu in C sharp minor Op.66 [4.39]
Tarantelle in A flat major Op.43 [3.11]
Alfred Cortot (piano)
Recorded in London 1926 (Preludes), 1931 (Tarantelle), 1933 (Impromptus) and 1949-50 (Preludes and Berceuse)
NAXOS 8.111023 [68.03]

The first of a promised handful of Cortot-Chopin discs brings us the much less well-known 1926 traversal of the Op.28 Preludes. Collectors will know the 1933/34 set, which is on Philips and may well be aware of the 1942 set on EMI but the earliest of the trio, this early electric album, is something of a rarity. So itís good to have it corralled here with some other less recognised examples of Cortotís art. In respect of the latter recordings, especially the post-War ones, I should alert you to the fact that there is no overlap with APRís excellent Cortot disc devoted to recordings made after his re-emergence following his disgraceful conduct during the War.

All the highest qualities and felicities are here in the Preludes. A warm, singing tone, legato, daemonic drive and an almost unparalleled oceanic sense of space, though never one that is unduly lingering. The A minor [No.2] has a sense almost of improvisatory quickness along with its gravity. The E major [No.9] is a stupendous feat of digital control and vivid imagination, the D flat major dramatic, animated by Cortotís bass power. The sixteenth in B flat minor is played with commanding, almost sovereign control; the F minor [No.18] is animated by profound rhythmic incision. Maybe he cuts off the pedal at the end of the E minor [No.4] rather too early and grades the climaxes with individualistic timing but the results, notwithstanding this or the finger slips in, say, No.21 in B flat major (probably the most obvious example) are still kaleidoscopic in their surveying of the emotive landscape of the Preludes.

The companion records are no less worthy of note. His 1950 remake of the D flat major Prelude [No.15] is a touch slower than the 1926 recording though the recording is a quarter of a century more up-to-date. The Impromptus Ė his only recording undertaking of them - are delicious in their whimsical colouration and the Tarantelle will be new to CD collectors as itís never been made available in this form before.

The transfers preserve the upper frequencies, especially in the 1926 Preludes, to impressive effect. Some have more shellac noise than others but listening pleasure is not at all impaired. This is a cannily chosen selection; leading with the 1926 Preludes and the Tarantelle will whet many an appetite and rightly so.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Dominy Clements

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