Any new release from Maria João Pires is cause for celebration
as far as I’m concerned. For Deutsche Grammophon, Chopin specialist
Pires has personally chosen a number of works from the years 1844-49.
This selection is what she describes as a stroll through Chopin’s
late period. She singles out the Sonata No.3 for special
praise and considers it a very important work, “one that I
have always regarded as a point of departure - a door opening
on to a new awareness of things on Chopin's part”.
four movement Sonata for piano No 3 in B minor, Op.
58 from the summer of 1844 was completed six years after the
renowned B flat-minor Sonata No. 2. Dedicated to the
Countess Emilie de Perthuis it was published in 1845. It certainly
receives less attention than the Sonata No. 2 that
is famous for its third movement Marche funèbre. Rubinstein
biographer Harvey Sachs considers the Sonata No. 3,
“…as one of the pinnacles of Chopin’s art and one of the
greatest of all post-Beethovenian sonatas.” (from the
booklet notes to vol. 46 of ‘The Rubinstein Collection’ on
RCA Red Seal 09026-63046-2). Compared
to the Sonata No.2 Pires feels the third Sonata,
“may seem more tightly controlled, but it is in fact profoundly
chaotic: there's an energy here that rises and falls incessantly
as if Chopin were recalling past struggles and was using them
to leap forwards to an entirely new logic.” Chopin biographer
Arthur Hedley expresses the view that, “Its four movements
contain some of the finest music ever written for the piano”
(‘Chopin’ Arthur Hedley, Dent, 1974).
The B minor Sonata opens with an Allegro maestoso
movement blessed by its richness of ideas. Pires plays
with a level of aching tenderness that I have rarely encountered.
I love the way Pires doesn’t get carried away with her tempi
remaining in control of the movement’s conclusion. The tiny
Scherzo marked Molto vivace with its contrasting
central section is an exercise in virtuosity. In the nocturne-like
Largo the intensity of the moods swiftly alter
like shifting desert sands. An underlying veil of tenderness
is never over-emphasised. Within the intense sadness there
is an occasional glimpse of optimism. Notwithstanding this
beautiful music must surely represent a failed love affair.
With the rapidly delivered Finale marked Presto,
non tanto I was at times struck by the strong Beethovenian
spirit of the writing. The energetic Pires hurtles through
this proud and intrepid Sonata-Rondo to provide an
are several fine versions of the Piano Sonata No.3 in B
minor in the catalogues that I have cut down to three
highly recommendable versions. Firstly there is the powerful
and dramatic performance from the great Chopin master Artur
Rubinstein. For me this is a peerless performance and one
of the finest of Rubinstein achievements in the recording
studio. Recorded in 1961 at New York City and digitally re-mastered
the Rubinstein account is on vol. 46 of ‘The Rubinstein Collection’
on RCA Red Seal 09026-63046-2 (c/w Chopin Piano Sonata
No. 2 in B flat minor; Fantaisie, Op. 49; Barcarolle,
Op. 60; Berceuse, Op. 57).
I remain a fond admirer of the beautiful played and dramatic
version of the B minor Sonata by
Maurizio Pollini. Recorded in the Munich Herkulessaal
in 1984; the disc is on Deutsche Grammophon
415 346-2 (c/w Chopin Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat
an alternative to the established names I have also chosen
a splendid recent version of the B minor Sonata
from one of the younger generation performers, the Argentinean
pianist Ingrid Fliter. It is an interpretation that combines
youthful enthusiasm with a sensitivity and thoughtfulness
of considerable maturity. Fliter made her recording at the
Potton Hall, Suffolk, England in 2007 on EMI Classics 5 14899
2 (c/w Chopin Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor;
3 Mazurkas, Op. 58; Barcarolle, Op.60; 3
Waltzes, Op.64 and Grande Valse Brillante, Op.18).
has selected a number of late-period piano scores from several
of the forms that Chopin became famous for developing. Chopin
wrote twenty-one nocturnes. He took John Field’s concept of
the nocturne and adapted it to a more sophisticated form that
he popularised and perfected. Pires has chosen the opus 62
pair of nocturnes from 1846 remarking upon the dissonances
they contain. The first nocturne, a dreamy and sentimental
B major Andante is a glorious tone painting and
the sweet tenderness of the second E major nocturne marked
Lento is broken by gusts of emotional turmoil and anxiety.
took the mazurka, a Polish national dance, and turned it into
a piano form. His fifty-one mazurkas are undoubtedly one of
the finest achievements in the whole piano repertoire. It
is a common assertion that Chopin poured out more of his nationalist
ardour into the mazurka than into any other of his works.
Pires has chosen first the set of 3 Mazurkas opus 59
from 1845. The first two Mazurkas a Moderato
in A minor and the second an A flat major Allegretto
are stately dance infused pieces. Last in the set is the F
sharp minor Mazurka a Vivace inhabiting the
mischievous atmosphere of a coltish chase.
opus 63 set of 3 Mazurkas was completed in 1846. I
found the B major Vivace even-tempered and there was
a pensiveness to the F minor Lento; almost a sense
of preoccupation. Often said to be Chopin’s greatest Mazurka
the final work of the set, the Allegretto in C sharp
minor is a tender piece of a highly amenable temperament.
the opus 67 set of 4Mazurkas Pires has selected two
pieces. The second Mazurka is a short and outwardly
confident G minor Cantabile written in 1848/9 with
its repressed sense of melancholy. Composed earlier in 1846
the fourth piece an Allegretto in A minor is communicated
by the soloist with utmost grace and a judicious touch of
seriousness. Pires has chosen just one from the opus 68 set
of Mazurkas the last of the four an F minor Andantino
from 1848/49. Clearly the score made a significant impression
on Pires remarking, “I am always as amazed as I am moved
by the chromaticism.” From close to the end of his life
this F minor piece is one Chopin’s last scores to be written
maybe even the final one. I can feel how Pires imbues a sadness
to her interpretation also sensing a temperament of deep regret.
polonaise originated from a national Polish dance taken at
a moderately fast pace. Chopin popularised the form writing
16 polonaises. Pires has selected a single dance the Polonaise-fantaisie
in A flat major, Op. 61 that Chopin completed in
1846. In Pires’s interpretation I was struck by a profusion
of contrasting colours ranging from the passive to the passionate
and the vulnerable to the virile.
waltz is a popular form probably derived from the Austrian
Ländler a folk dance usually in 3/4 time. In the waltz
Chopin developed his own inimitable and memorable style going
on to write seventeen such examples. Chopin was it seems cautious
about the waltzes that he wanted in the public arena only
authorising the publication of eight of them. Pires
observes a certain Schubertian character to the 3 Waltzes
from the opus. 64 group that were late works completed in
1847. In particular the temperament of Schubert conspicuously found
in the most frequently played C sharp minor Waltz.
first work of the opus 64 set is the ubiquitous Waltz
marked Molto vivace in D flat major universally known
as the ‘minute waltz’. With Peres’s nimble and compelling
playing one can easily imagine the often stated representation
of a dog chasing his tail. The second piece in C sharp minor
marked Tempo giusto is noble and stately crammed with
reserves of restless energy and the final of the set a Moderato
in A flat major is a graceful Waltz tinged with a touch
those wanting the very finest versions of Chopin’s Mazurkas;
Waltzes; Nocturnes and the Polonaise-fantaisie
I can commend with the greatest confidence the consistently
refined and expressive performances from Arthur Rubinstein.
Originally recorded for RCA Victor and now released by RCA
Red Seal each of the four recordings have been digitally remastered
a) 14 Waltzes;
3 Impromptus; Fantaisie-Impromptu and Bolero
from 1962/63/64 at Rome on vol. 47 of ‘The Rubinstein Collection’
on RCA Red Seal 09026 63047-2.
b) 6 Polonaises;
Polonaise-fantaisie; Andante spianato and Grande
Polonaise from 1964 at New York City on vol. 48 of ‘The
Rubinstein Collection’ on RCA Red Seal 09026 63048-2.
c) 19 Nocturnes
from 1965/67 at Rome on vol. 49 of ‘The Rubinstein Collection’
on RCA Red Seal 09026 63049-2 RE.
d) 51 Mazurkas
from 1965/66 at New York City on vol. 50 of ‘The Rubinstein
Collection’ on RCA Red Seal 09026 63050-2.
also recorded Chopin’s 4 Scherzos and 4 Ballades
in 1959 at the Manhattan Center in New York City for RCA
Victor released on two vinyl LPs on their ‘Living Stereo’
series. I believe these to be peerless performances that are
contained on one of the finest classical music discs ever
recorded and now reissued on RCA Red Seal (SACD) 82876-61396-2
RE1. According to the notes this hybrid SACD was re-mastered
from the original 3-channel stereo master tapes. It certainly
sounds quite magnificent. These Rubinstein performances are
also contained on the disc RCA Victor Red Seal 09026 63045-2
(c/w Chopin Tarantelle, Op. 43).
major work on Pires’s Deutsche Grammophon release is the four
movement Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65. Chopin dedicated
the Sonata to his friend the renowned French cellist
Auguste Franchomme. He laboured hard over the score which
was composed in 1845-46 just three years before his death.
The music must surely reflect the composer’s failing health
and his estrangement from his lover George Sand.
João Pires’s affection for the Cello Sonata is patent. When asked
how she approached a work that had perplexed so many people
she replied, “through the voice, the voice that seeks to
express what is otherwise inexpressible - that of the cello,
of course.” Pires and her partner Pavel Gomziakov
are in outstanding condition for the Cello Sonata.
It is an intense work cloaked in
both beauty and introspection with a burning passion smouldering
beneath the surface. I was impressed with the way that
Gomziakov doesn’t allow his emotions to get the better of
him. Persuasively the cellist provides a controlled restraint
with what feels like just the right amount of passion. The
tones of both instruments are a delight; especially the rich
tone of the 1865 cello by Bernardel père (Paris).
The extended opening movement in strict sonata form marked
Allegro moderato is as long as the other three movements
put together. In this seriously dramatic movement a deep vein
of nostalgia develops a powerful intensity and passion. Interspersed
are affecting passages of brooding tenderness. Striking are
Pires and Gomziakov amid the energetic demands of the restless
and windswept Scherzo. In the broad central section
of considerable lyricism a glorious cello melody appears as
if from nowhere. The partners play the Largo a moving
nocturne with heart-breaking poignancy. Designed in sonata
form the high-spirited and sparkling quality of the Finale,
Allegro provides a welcome respite from the serious
character of the previous movements. In keeping with much
of Chopin’s music a hint of sadness lurks just beneath the
the alternative versions of the Cello Sonata I have grown
to love the interpretation from cellist David Finckel and pianist
Wu Han for its tremendous personality and energy. Recorded
in 1996 at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York
the performance was available as a BBC Music Magazine cover disc
from the January 1997 edition (c/w Grieg Cello Sonata and
Schumann Adagio and Allegro). The disc can also be obtained
from Finckel’s website.
In 2004 I was fortunate to attend a subscription society recital
where the husband and wife partnership of Finckel and Han gave
an outstanding performance of the Chopin Cello Sonata;
a score clearly very dear to them.
retain a high regard for the masterly playing from Truls Mørk
and Kathryn Stott in their account of the Cello Sonata
recorded in 2006 at the Østre Fredrikstad Church, Norway.
Titled ‘Nocturne’ Mørk and Stott’s release
also includes several of Chopin’s scores in transcriptions
for cello and piano on Virgin Classics 3 85784.
also admire my disc of the dramatic 1980 Munich Herkulessaal account
of the Cello Sonata from Mstislav Rostropovich and Martha
Argerich on Deutsche Grammophon 419860-2 (Chopin Polonaise,
Op. 3; Schumann Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70 arr. F. Grützmacher).
fine recent version that deserves attention is from Alban
Gerhardt and Steven Osborne recorded in 2007 at the Henry
Wood Hall, London. Played with directness and an impressive
clarity of expression the release has the added appeal of
being coupled with the rarely performed Cello Sonata from
Parisian composer Charles-Valentin Alkan on Hyperion CDA67624.
warm and clear studio acoustic is excellent with the cello
especially given a fine bloom. Set a touch close I felt the
balance was well judged for these scores. The booklet notes
take the form of an interview with Maria João Pires. Personally
I would have preferred some detailed information on the actual
on my shortlist as a 2009 ‘Record of the Year’ this is enthralling
Chopin playing. In partnership with Gomziakov the Cello Sonata
is memorable and beautifully played.