Frédéric CHOPIN
(1810 – 1849)
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, op.11 (1830) [38:45]; Nocturnes in F, op.15/1 (1830/1831) [4:15], in F#, op.15/2 (1830/1831) [3:30], C# minor, op.27/1 (1836) [4:42], D?, op.27/2 (1836) [5:27]; Ballade No.1 in G minor, op.23 (1835/1836) [8:58]; Polonaise No.6 in A?, Héroïque, op.53 (1842) [6:57]
Maurizio Pollini (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Paul Kletzki
rec 20-21 April 1960, Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London (Concerto); 17-21 June and 1-3 July 1968, Salle Wagram, Paris. ADD
EMI CLASSICS – EMI MASTERS 6 31780 2 [72:56]

My relationship with Chopin’s 1st Piano Concerto mirrors perfectly my love life; I have been disappointed, with both, far too often. In the case of the Chopin Concerto with dull and uninteresting performances, both on disk and in concert. However, the re–appearance of this magnificent performance restores my faith in the piece.

When only 18, Pollini won the International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, which prompted the comment from Arthur Rubinstein, chairman of the jury, “that boy can play the piano better than any of us”. And play he could. This recording was made shortly after that triumph and what a fresh and sparkling poerformance this is. It’s easy to understand why he won the competition and it’s very exciting to hear a great talent at the very start of its career.

Fifty years ago, when this recording of the Concerto was made, there weren’t the number of recordings of the piece that there are today, nor, I suspect, was it heard as often in the concert hall. At that time there was a much broader repertorie than there is today in concert. This performance therefore is not of its period – that is, this isn’t an historic document as would be a 1930s recording by Josef Hoffmann. It’s of a work which wasn’t a warhorse and which one looked forward to hearing. What is refreshingly missing from this performance is any sense of “poor Chopin, who died so young and had bad health for years” which blights many Chopin performancres today. Instead, we are given a young stallion, full of energy and champing at the bit to get away. Kletzki opens the work with the most positive of introductions and gives a strong, but never overpowering, account of the orchestral part. Pollini, charms, tantalises, sings, jokes and displays the whole gamut of emotion whilst displaying a flawless technique. There is no feeling of weakness in the structure of the music, which can so easily happen, and one feels the strength and logic of Chopin’s conception. Why need I say all this for this is, without doubt, one of the best Piano Concerto recordings you’ll ever hear, and is self recommending.

The solo pieces, recorded eight years later, show a mastery and command of the keyboard which is second to none. This is a great disk which should not be missed.

Bob Briggs

This is a great disc which should not be missed.