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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Great Pianists - Cortot: Volume 5
Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 (1835) [8:48]
Ballade No. 2 in F major, Op. 38 (1839) [6:53]
Ballade No. 3 in A flat major, Op. 47 (1841) [6:43]
Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 (1842) [9:45]
Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 in E flat major (1830-31) [4:20]
Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 in E flat major (1830-31) [4:16]
Nocturne Op. 15 No. 1 in F major [4:33]
Nocturne Op. 15 No. 2 in F sharp major (1830-31) [3:22]
Nocturne Op. 27 No. 1 in C sharp minor [4:40]
Nocturne Op. 55 No. 1 in F minor [4:33]
Nocturne Op. 55 No. 2 in E flat major [4:35]
Alfred Cortot (piano)
rec. Queen’s Small Hall, London 1929 (Ballades), EMI Abbey Road Studio, London 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1951 (Nocturnes)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111245 [62:29]

The final two volumes of Naxos’s Cortot-Chopin 78s series, of which this is the fifth and final one, offer substantial riches and do so moreover in fine sounding transfers. Three of the four Ballades were successfully accomplished on the same day – 11 March 1929 – and only the G minor belongs to another session made nearly three months later. These are less well known than the later 1933 recordings and are thus doubly deserving of our attention.
In the G minor he opens with powerful and potently introspective passion. Subsequent accelerandi may not convince those who favour a more metrically rectitudinous approach but it sounds magnetically fervent nevertheless. Cortot’s expressive range is so wide, so deep that he seems to encompass every tactile facet from the Ballades. In the circumstances his fabled uneven technique, which lets him down in minor ways in the G minor, is of utterly subservient significance. Similarly with the F major we find a remarkable balance between the dictates of lyrical expression and tensile drama. This is a hugely complex piece and it’s difficult to fuse together its oppositional character. Cortot’s solutions always sound convincing and true both to the sinew and to the mind behind it. In the Third Ballade we feel him drive with ever devastating drama toward the heart of the matter – where the volatile flexibility of pulse brings the central section to truly volcanic life. As for the F minor it too is propelled by Cortot’s incendiary eloquence. It stands as a kind of panorama of intensity and of feelings pushed almost to the breaking point.
The Nocturnes span a wide range of recording dates but demonstrate the same virtues. There are six here with one remake. The essence of them in Cortot’s hands is an almost vocalised expression allied to ravishing tone colours. True, his individuality can sometimes elide into mannerism – desynchronised chording was no longer fashionable and the metrical to-ings and fro-ings which he displays could fairly be judged indulgent.  Still, how ravishing is the F major [Op. 15 No. 1] in all its limpid beauty.
The Op.55 Nocturnes have also been transferred on an APR disc devoted to Cortot’s post-war London sessions (APR 5571). Naxos has retained just a slighter higher quotient of surface noise but otherwise there’s little in it.

A triumphant end for the Cortot-Chopin series then. Good restoration work allows us to hear these performances in all their disputatious but teeming glory.
Jonathan Woolf

Naxos Historical Great Pianists page



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