Some concert pianists have a career that starts like a meteoric
flash, and then dwindles when the artist can’t live up
to the initial hype.
Others go on showing music-lovers something new and interesting,
throughout careers that continually seem to take a novel turn.
This is the case with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who turns fifty this
year and has been on the scene since he entered the Lyons Conservatory
at the age of five. His career has developed in many directions,
from the conventional world of concerto appearances and solo
recitals to forays into jazz, chamber music and duo performances.
Throughout all this, Thibaudet is a consistently interesting
artist who does things his own way.
He is a brilliant Chopin player, as we see from this reissue
of earlier Denon recordings offering the 24 Preludes, Op. 28,
along with a trio of Nocturnes and a quartet of Waltzes. What
distinguishes this compilation from Thibaudet’s 2000 recording,
“The Chopin I Love” (another mixed bag of short
pieces), is the 24 Preludes - that landmark work that has attracted
the attention of nearly every major pianist, with a discography
to prove it.
Originally recorded for Denon two decades ago, this reissue
offers Thibaudet’s only recording of the Preludes, and
they are stunners. Right from the outset, in a reading of No.
1 that surges and recedes like a small craft on the waves, he
freely tailors the tempo and dynamics to suit his own way. A
lot of Thibaudet’s tempo choices are extremely deliberate.
No. 3 is rendered with almost no pedal, with the glittering
passagework revealed in complete clarity. A little idiosyncratic,
yes, but this version is highly persuasive.
Thibaudet never tosses off these Preludes; he likes to take
his time. The wistful little No. 4 is given a thoughtful, probing
reading that is almost half as lengthy again as the recordings
by Arrau and Argerich. The famous “Raindrop” Prelude
(No. 15, in D-Flat), both delicate and deliberate, runs almost
eight minutes, to Maurizio Pollini’s five. The “Suicide”
Prelude (No. 18) is just as headlong and as speedy as Evgeny
Kissin’s version, but Thibaudet makes you wait and wait
- for about five dramatic seconds of silence - for the resolution
of the final two chords.
The rest of the Thibaudet disc also offers rewards, most notably
in his reading of the lovely little C-Sharp Minor Nocturne (No.
20). Heartfelt, occasionally bleak, and rendered with the utmost
delicacy, this little scene-stealer is one of the chief joys
of this disc.
The overall effect of much of the playing is to let the listener
hear “inside” the music; there’s a transparency
about Thibaudet’s approach that is most effective.
In sum: Chopin devotees won’t want to miss this one.
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