Frdric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11 (1830) [39:22]
Fantasia on Polish Airs, Op. 13 (1828) [13:32]
Krakowiak, Grand Rondeau de Concert, Op. 14 (1828) [14:29]
Eldar Nebolsin (Piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw; 1-5 September 2009. 5.0 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio; 2.0 Stereo PCM. High Definition Audio Disc.
NAXOS BLU-RAY NBD0011 [67:42]

Most long-time admirers of Chopins First Piano Concerto are well aware of Artur Rubinsteins 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 Chopins lyrical side in the way he imparts delicate mystery to the first movements main theme or how he floats the main theme to the ensuing Romanza in lovely singing tones. In Nebolsins 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 doesnt quite match the effervescence of Rubinsteins 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 Wits numerous acclaimed recordings on Naxos, he has earned much justly deserved recognition. Wit makes the most of Chopins 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, Nebolsins 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.

Robert Cummings