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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Summer in Nohant

Mazurkas Op. 41 (1839): No. 1 in E minor (Palma mazurka) [2:19]; No. 2 in B major [1:09]; No. 3 in A flat major [2:05]; No. 4 in C sharp minor [3:25]
Ballade No. 3 in A flat major Op. 47 (1841) [7:08]
Nocturnes Op. 48 (1841): No. 1 in C minor [6:34]; No. 2 in F sharp minor [8:24]
Polonaise in A flat major (Polonaise héroïque) Op. 53 [7:06]
Nocturnes Op. 55 (1842-3): No. 1 in F minor [5:44]; No. 2 in E flat major [5:18]
Mazurkas Op. 59 (1845): No. 1 in A minor [4:00]; No. 2 in A flat major [2:40]; No. 3 in F sharp minor [3:21]
Polonaise-fantaisie Op. 61 (1846) [12:52]
Ian Jones (piano)
rec. Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm, Sweden, 25-27 August 2004. DDD
LONDON INDEPENDENT RECORDS LIR 013 [74:50]



The title ‘Summer in Nohant’ may not register with some readers, but between 1839 and 1846 Chopin spent most of his summer months at the rural estate of ‘Nohant’ (Berry Province of France) as guest of its owner George Sand. It was here that he would occupy his time composing many of his solo piano pieces. From the Nohant chateau came some of his highly admired compositions. This disc takes a random mixture of mazurkas, polonaises and nocturnes composed there over the seven year period.
 
The opening suite of Mazurkas has a certain delicacy and subtlety so much so that Chopin apparently remarked that, ‘they seem pretty to me’. These are the first Nohant compositions and as such display freshness and charm. It should be mentioned that the ‘Palma’ was in fact sketched when Chopin visited Palma. The first suite contains good contrasts: the No.1 is dreamy with a melancholic air; No.2 bright with engaging choppy rhythm and good filigree passage-work requiring much dexterity - competently achieved here by the pianist; No.3 conveys the characteristics we often associate with Chopin; while No.4 captures the serene rolling pastures of the country that surrounds the Nohant estate. The later 1846 Mazurkas are not quite as vibrant as those from 1839: No.1 is relaxed and plaintive; No.2, ardent and delicate and No.3 robust with dynamic strength. Jones plays them all with due sensitivity and much poetic feeling.
 
Amongst the pieces recorded, of particular satisfaction to me is the Ballade No. 3 with its changing pace never allowing one to anticipate the next section. It is a substantial piece (7 minutes) where a number of virtuosic themes make it ideal for the concert platform as judged from the performance given here.
 
Perhaps what comes to mind whilst listening to Chopin’s Nocturnes are thoughts of ‘the World at peace’. Jones becomes absorbed in the ebb and flow of the music, a serene canvas, maybe, with silhouetted clouds lazily drifting over moonlit fields and hedges. The acoustic is well suited to the series of slow separated notes, dampening any harsh staccato effect.
 
The Polonaise-fantaisie with its unusual opening takes some time to settle down and does not at first hold one’s attention. To me the first half of the piece meanders without much purpose until the central theme starts - 6:38 in - which then commands one’s attention to the end.
 
Ian Jones is a gifted pianist who brings good pacing to the music. He was spring-boarded into prominence by competitions as the Leeds International Piano Competition (1993) winning the coveted RCM Chappell Medal. With a debut recital at the Purcell Rooms, London, he was soon to make appearances at the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank and gain a reputation for his interpretation of Mozart and Rachmaninov.
 
The acoustics are good and the recording likewise though I would have liked to have heard a crisper top to the Steinway D piano. I found some of the phraseology used in the notes by Jim Samson rather convoluted. He obviously knows what he means when he writes: “The E flat Nocturne, Op.55 No.2 is in every way a richer and more adventurous piece than its predecessor, bringing to the service of its lyricism a contrapuntal edge and harmonic asperity which were given only restrained expression in the earlier nocturnes.” But for the average listener will such points be mentally absorbed?
 
Raymond J Walker
 

 

 

 

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