Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturnes (complete)
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 pub. 1870) [4.36]
Marisa Montiel (piano)
rec. Madrid, 25-27 February 2011
COLUMNA MUSICA 1CM0271 [51.48 + 59.23]
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 set.
Gary Higginson
Montiel’s dolce e legato touch is absolutely perfect.