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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

A Musical Journey - France
To the music of Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor, Op.11 by Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Idil Biret (piano); Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Robert Stankovsky
No recording date or venue given but taken from Naxos 8.554540
Dts Digital Surround Sound. Dolby Digital. Aspect ratio 4:3
NAXOS 2.110247 [77.56]
Experience Classicsonline

Chopin was the son of a French father and a Polish mother. He spent his early life in Poland before leaving in 1830, setting up home in Paris the following year where he died in 1849. His so-called first piano concerto is the second of two the composer wrote. It was premiered in Warsaw at the last concert Chopin gave in the country of his birth. Following the example of other distinguished composer-pianists of the period, Chopin provides a work in which the orchestra, after an opening extended orchestral exposition, serves as a supporting background to the solo piano.  

The playing of the Turkish pianist Idil Biret is a pleasant well-recorded background to this tour of several French regions. If she lacks the élan of Pollini or the fire of Argerich, hers is a technically and artistically ideal accompaniment to this venture that is more concerned with displaying the visual glories and the diversity of France than the composer’s music. The opening (CH.1) is, inevitably, concerned with the Paris. It opens with the architecturally glorious Opéra Garnier as a fine starter before a journey down the Champs Elysées and on to the Châtelet. The Jardins du Luxembourg has the tombs of Chopin and Haussman. The latter did so much to develop Paris in the Second Empire with its grand boulevards around the Opéra Garnier. One of the grandest which bears his name as well as the frontage for the renowned Galerie Lafayette, not featured, and its magnificent dome.

The journey then goes southward to the vineyards of Burgundy with an opening view of the great, and magnificently located, basilica at Vezelay (CH.2) whose ornate interior also features. As well as the vineyards the unusual patterned roofs as well as the interior of the Hospice de Beaune are a glory here. Chapter 3 moves us further south taking in Arles on a fête day with the Roman Arena, smaller than that at Nimes, being featured as well as the Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct. A visit to the Camargue takes in the black bulls that also appear fearlessly in the amphitheatre. They are as likely to exit by jumping over the doors to their quarters as gore any picador. The nearby eroded bauxite rocks that harbour the Théâtre des Images are shown but not that particular feature.

Chapter 4 moves the viewer north to the Comté taking in its characterful countryside as well as the unusual features of the Arc et Sénans and the salt lakes before moving on (CH.5) to the region of the lower Loire and its bastides and châteaux. These include the famous ones at Azay le Rideau and Chenonceau. This is where the lack of any narrative on the screen is an even greater disadvantage to those who do not know the sites. Of value too would have been a brief comment on the special history of Chenonceau as the boundary between ‘free’ or ‘Vichy France’ and ‘occupied or German-controlled France’ in the Second World War.

The concluding Chapter (7) takes in Brittany and Normandy. St Malo and La Baule are shown; also the saltpans near Le Croisic. Inevitably, the tourist honey-pot of Mont Saint Michel features whilst the landing beaches at Arromanches, Omaha and Utah do not - a pity.

The photography is excellent but France and Chopin? There is no visit to the Limousin and particularly the characterful village of Gargilesse-Dampière where the composer conducted his affair with the novelist Georges Sands and which drew many painters including Claude Monet and Théodore Rousseau.

Robert J Farr



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