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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline


Fryderyc CHOPIN (1810-1849)
24 Préludes, op.28 (1836-1839) [35:06]
Ballade no.1 in G minor, op.23 (1835-1836) [8:18]
Ballade no.2 in F, op.38 (1836-1839) [7:03]
Ballade no.3 in A flat, op.47 (1841) [7:05]
Ballade no.4 in F minor, op.52 (1842-1843) [9:29]
Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, op.66 (1834) [4:38]
Benno Moiseiwitsch (piano)
rec. Studio 3, Abbey Road, London; 23 September 1938 and 17 March 1939 (Ballade no.1 and Ballade no.3), 22 August 1947 (Ballade no.2 and Ballade no.4), 29-30 December 1948 and 20 September 1949 (Préludes), 11 January 1952 (Fantaisie-Impromptu)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111118 [71:40]
Experience Classicsonline

“I am startled, occasionally,” pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch once admitted, “to find "intelligence" used as the antithesis of "feeling", as though the two played against each other. Nothing could be further from the truth. No intelligent interpretation is lacking in emotional values …  [D]epending on gifts and degree of maturity, some natures emphasize brain over heart. Where such an imbalance occurs, it must be corrected by conscious and concentrated application to emotional content.”
In that statement and others like it, Moiseiwitsch made it clear that he considered the printed score, on its own, an insufficient guide.  He believed, rather, that any interpreter of the music of Chopin, for example, required “a sound knowledge of Chopin's life, his moods; what he was experiencing and feeling when he wrote that particular work; its relation to his work as a whole, etc. One tries to reconstruct all this, and then to apply it”.
Of course, such subjectivity contradicts any thought of there being such a thing as a standardised interpretation.  Indeed, Moiseiwitsch went on to explain that, in approaching a work, he preferred trying out a variety of what he called “shades of meaning” before hitting upon the one that he found most personally satisfying at that particular moment in time.
It was perhaps that same constantly shifting subjective viewpoint that explains the chequered history of his attempts to record Chopin’s multifaceted Préludes, for none of his early ventures - in November 1921, December 1921, May 1922, July 1922, October 1922 and April 1924 – ever emerged from inside the studio walls.  Only in 1948, after playing the full set on tour in Australia, did Moiseiwitsch achieve a recording that was – with some retakes of Préludes 16-18 and 22-24 the following year - to his own artistic satisfaction. 
Many pianists come to this music with strengths particularly suited to some of the pieces but most definitely not to others.  But by bringing his interpretations to the studio relatively late in his career when he was almost 60 years old – though still at his technical peak – Moiseiwitsch offers us the keenest insights of both brain and heart, even though they may well be differently proportioned from one individual Prélude to another.  The result is a performance that, while typically refined, is utterly alive, responsive and flexible.  Nearly 60 years after it was recorded, it continues to put many later competitors in the shade.
Booklet writer Jonathan Summers chooses probably the most apposite adjective when he observes that this is one of the most satisfactory sets of Préludes overall - not in the schoolmaster’s meaning of “average” but in the literal sense that this is a performance for life that provides complete aesthetic satisfaction.
The recordings of the four Ballades (that of no.4 was never commercially released) come from two different phases of Moiseiwitsch’s career, but one would be hard pressed to notice distinctions in either general artistic approach or, indeed, the quality of the recorded sound as expertly remastered by Ward Marston.  Chopin’s eclectic literary inspiration – with stories ranging from the doomed love of a water spirit for a mortal to treasonous shenanigans among the medieval Teutonic Knights of Lithuania - means that the Ballades are more episodic and less purely atmospheric than the Préludes.  As such, they pose rather less complex interpretative challenges to performers.  Moiseiwitsch offers here, nonetheless, accounts of some subtlety and complete integrity, after which the familiar melodies of the Fantaisie-Impromptu op.66, recorded in the best sound of all, round off a worthwhile disc, the twelfth in Naxos’s fine series that pays tribute to this much loved soloist.  
Rob Maynard
Reviews of other Moiseiwitsch recordings on Naxos Historical


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