Frédéric CHOPIN (1801-1849)
Piano Music – Volume 2
Nocturne No. 3 in G minor, Op. 15 [4:19]
Ballade in G minor, Op. 23 [8:55]
Nocturne No. 1 in F Major, Op. 15 [4:16]
Ballade in F Major, Op. 38 [6:57]
Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 9 [4:33]
Nocturne No. 1 in C minor, Op. 48 [5:21]
Ballade in A-flat Major, Op. 47 [7:05]
Nocturne No. 1 in F minor, Op. 55 [4:58]
Ballade in F minor, Op. 52 [11:27]
Berceuse in D-flat Major, Op. 57 [4:42]
Nocturne No. 2 in F-sharp Major, Op. 15 [3:36]
Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60 [8:31]
Louis Lortie (piano)
rec. 24-25 October 2011, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, England
CHANDOS CHAN 10714 [75:16]
I was very much taken with Mr. Lortie’s recent recording of Liszt’s complete Années de pèlerinage, so I came to this new Chopin CD with the highest expectations. For the most part, I found this Chopin recital intelligently planned and exquisitely played. Lortie’s tone is consistently beautiful; even at the loudest passages there is never a trace of harshness. What I found most striking was how Lortie’s playing seems very much aligned with Chopin’s own performance style. More than once during this 75 minute CD, I was reminded of Berlioz’s description of Chopin playing:0
There are incredible details in his mazurkas, and he has found how to make them doubly interesting by playing them with the utmost degree of gentleness, with a superlative softness. The hammers just graze the strings so that the hearer is tempted to draw near the instrument and strain his ear, as though he were at a concert of sylphs and will-o’-the-wisps. (Taken from: http://www.hudsonreview.com/MullenWi04.html)
I had scores at hand for six of the twelve pieces on this recording. Following along with the performances, I was constantly impressed by Lortie’s fidelity to the score. I have heard several performances of the G-minor Ballade, Op. 23 (Track 2), where the music is played several levels louder than what is called for in the score. By playing the dynamics as written, Lortie’s performance is perhaps more delicate and gentle than the norm, yet at the end of it I was completely convinced that this is how the music should sound. Likewise, his performance of the Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9 (Track 5) left me completely spellbound by its quietly intense playing. I stopped the CD player more fully to take pleasure in the sense of calm I felt. It is fantastic to experience such a reaction, and, even after listening several times, the effect was always the same.
Throughout the recital, Lortie shows a complete mastery of the technical issues: runs are consistently clear, transitions between sections sound organic and unaffected. Clarity of line is maintained no matter what the volume or speed of the music. Lortie’s rubato is natural and always tasteful; more importantly, his phrasing seems vocal in nature, as if he were singing the phrases instead of playing them.
After several hearings, there were instances where Lortie’s approach is overly cautious. This was perhaps most noticeable in the longest work of the recital, the F-minor Ballade, Op. 52 (Track 9). Here Lortie’s focus on creating a beautiful sound seems a higher priority than engaging the full emotional content. For example, at 3.20 minutes, Chopin’s music grows in intensity, developing a more complex texture where the phrases seem to almost trip over one another. In performances by Krystian Zimerman (DG, 1990) and Earl Wild (Ivory Classics, 2005) this moment brings a greater sense of abandon. In comparison, Lortie is slightly pedestrian. However the moments that bothered me were far and few between. Any sense of disappointment I felt after hearing the Ballade was immediately wiped out by Lortie’s ravishing performance of the D-flat Berceuse (Track 10).
As in Volume 1 (see Colin Clarke’s review) Lortie alternates between the Nocturnes and Ballades, suggesting in the CD booklet that “nobody really wants to sit down and listen to pieces of a single genre in a row.” Interesting and informative notes about the music are provided by Jeffrey Kallberg, while the sound is, as we have come to expect from Ralph Couzens and Chandos, uniformly excellent. These are thoughtful, engaging, and gorgeous performances that would be a worthy addition to any lover of Chopin’s music.
David A. McConnell
Thoughtful, engaging, and gorgeous.
See also review by Brian Reinhart