The question is, why should you chose to buy the complete Nocturnes
of Chopin by a little known pianist on an obscure, possibly
difficult to obtain label. That’s especially when glorious recordings
by the likes of Barenboim, Arrau, Ashkenazy and Pollini are
so easily available. Yet, perhaps you should think again.
One of the problems with the great, and not quite so great,
players, is that they seem to put themselves somewhere between
the composer and listener; the music does not always seem to
stand on its own feet. This is particularly important with Chopin’s
Nocturnes which although they are fascinatingly contrasted are
always marked either Larghetto, Lento or Andante
with only one Allegretto Op.9 no.3. In other words
it is tempting to over-dramatize one or two of them - especially
if you are recording the lot. At no point can I criticize Montiel
for these things. The performances live and breathe modestly
and thoughtfully with several little turns of individuality.
Who is Marisa Montiel? She studied in that wonderful city of
Cordoba and lives and works as a concert pianist and teacher
in Spain. South America has taken her fancy for several years
with a disc made in 1992 called ‘A Tribute to Iberoamerican
Music’. In 1999 she also recorded Albeniz’s complete Iberia.
Her website, as far as I can tell, has not been translated.
As to the music, I first heard these Nocturnes when Melvyn Tan
gave a memorable Southbank concert, on an Erard piano. He played
several of the nocturnes alongside some of those by John Field.
Yes, Field came first. Chopin was influenced by him but took
the form to much greater heights. He did however retain that
emphasis on bel canto melody which permeates the music.
You can hear this in the gorgeous melody of Op.62 no.2. Another
Field technique was to juxtapose these rich and soaring tunes
with broken chord left hand accompaniments. These keep the movement
going even in the slow tempi. Chopin, like Field, extensively
uses the pedal, now a fully developed aspect of the piano. Sustained
notes can be dramatically held over and dynamics suddenly altered
adding a certain drama. Chopin’s rhythms are more free-flowing,
more Mozartian one might say; Mozart was one of Chopin’s gods.
There is also more counterpoint than in Field and the structures,
although basically ternary are much more complex. Some pieces
point forward in musical history. Am I alone is hearing Debussy
in the Op.9 no.1 when the LH holds a chord under a descending
and ascending chordal passage; Debussy wrote a Nocturne, his
only one, in 1892. You can hear Grieg in the melodic lines Op.37
no.2? Perhaps Brahms was more than a little inspired by the
piano textures of Op.27 no.1. What about Liszt in the passion
of Op.15 no.1?
I am not going to compare versions but several of you may have
access, on the grounds of its being easily obtainable and cheap,
to the Naxos recordings by another underrated pianist, Idil
Beret. She is a lovely player and captures the melodic interest
superbly. On the whole she is a little slower and sometimes
more ponderous than Montiel. You could argue that she is more
expressive, but I would say more sentimental. No harm in that,
I hear you shout yet her performance of the B major Nocturne
Op.32 no.1 really a lift and lilt lost on Montiel. Claudio Arrau
is at his most poetic in the famous B flat minor Nocturne Op.9
no.1 and in the D flat. major Op.27 no.2. Montiel has her moments
too: not least her dolce e legato touch in the beautiful
Op.62 No.1 in B major; it’s absolutely perfect.
These discs are presented in an attractive cardboard casing
with Delacroix’s superb portrait of Chopin made in Paris around
1838 – that’s the date allotted to Op.37 no.1. There’s also
a photo of Montiel along with her biography and a rather feeble
booklet essay by Josep Pascual. The recording is perfectly serviceable
with a slight tendency towards boxiness when ‘ff’ is required.
Otherwise I see little reason not to recommend this double CD
CD 1: B flat minor Op.9 no.1 (1830-32) [5.07]; E flat
major Op.9 no.2 (1833) [4.43]; B major Op.9 no.3 (1830-32) [6.35];
F major Op.15 no.1 (1830-32) [4.45]; F sharp major Op.15 no.2
(1832) [3.33]; G minor Op.15 no.3 (1833) [4.53]; C sharp minor
Op.27 no.1 (1835) [5.00]; D flat major Op.27 no.2 (1835) [5.44];
B major Op.32 no.1 (1837) [5.13]; A flat major (1837) [5.23]
CD 2: G minor Op.37 no.1 (1840) [7.16]; G major Op.37
no.2 (1840) [6.12]; C minor Op.48 no.1 (1841) [6.40]; (1841)
[6.52]; F minor Op.55 no.1 (1844) [5.03]; E flat major Op.55
no.2 (1844) [4.51]; B major Op.62 no.1 (1846) [7.21]; E major
Op.62 no.2 (1846) [5.47]; E minor Op.62 no.2 (1827-29 pub. 1855)
[5.47]; C sharp minor Op.72 (1830 pub. 1872) [3.55]; C minor
Op.post.(1837 pub. 1870) [4.36]