Most long-time admirers of Chopin’s First Piano Concerto are
well aware of Artur Rubinstein’s classic 1961 recording, available
now on an RCA CD. Other eminently worthy recordings include
Argerich, on both DG (1968) and EMI (1999), Ax, on Sony (using
a period-instrument piano), and Perahia, also Sony.
Young Uzbek-born, Spain-based pianist Eldar Nebolsin enters
the ring. On no count is he ever less than thoroughly compelling
in the concerto, from his dramatic and stormy entrance in the
first movement to the brilliant but always tasteful virtuosity
of his finale. His articulation is clear without sounding brittle,
his phrasing elegant and warm, and his technique all-encompassing.
Notice how deftly he captures Chopin’s lyrical side in the way
he imparts delicate mystery to the first movement’s main theme
or how he floats the main theme to the ensuing Romanza in lovely
singing tones. In Nebolsin’s hands inner voices often emerge
to impart greater impetus to the music: try the coda to his
first movement where the left-hand figures - often buried in
other performances - convey a sense of agitation and drive as
the music hurtles nervously toward the ending. And if he doesn’t
quite match the effervescence of Rubinstein’s finale coda, he
comes very close.
In the end, Nebolsin makes the decision between him and the
others a tough one. However, what tilts the scales in favor
of Naxos is the clear and powerful sound and the incisive conducting
of Antoni Wit, a conductor who, in an oxymoronic irony, is famous
for being unknown. His extraordinary talents were overlooked
for years, as critic after critic lobbied in the wilderness
on his behalf. Now, owing to their persistence and Wit’s numerous
acclaimed recordings on Naxos, he has earned much justly deserved
recognition. Wit makes the most of Chopin’s generally bland
scoring, often giving it weight and muscle, or pointing up inner
detail, or simply letting the music sing where appropriate.
In the accompanying works, Nebolsin is just as compelling: the
Fantasia on Polish Airs sounds fresh and vital despite its somewhat
less inspired music. Krakowiak comes across with brilliant colors
and chipper moods, Nebolsin’s fingers seeming to negotiate the
thorniest passages with utter ease. Again, the sound is vivid.
The Warsaw Philharmonic play with spirit and accuracy in all
works. Notes by Keith Anderson are informative, as usual.
I must point out, as is noted in the heading, that this Blu-ray
disc is an audio-only, high-definition production. Also, there
is a blurb on the album cover stating that this is the, “First
recording to use the new Polish National Chopin Edition.” However,
I noticed nothing different in the scores from other performances,
and whatever differences there might be are probably negligible.
On the whole, this is a splendid release and augurs well for
a second DVD from these same forces shortly, presenting the
Second Concerto and other Chopin works. In sum, Nebolsin is
the real thing, a genuine virtuoso who can interpret Chopin
with imagination and style.