Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto no. 2 in F minor, Op. 21 (1829) [33:57]
Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 (1829) [39:28]
Ewa Kupiec (piano)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Sebastian Lang-Lessing (no. 2); Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Seaman (no. 1).
rec. 10-11 March 2011, Federation Concert Hall, Hobart (no. 2); May 2005, Arts Centre, Hamer Hall, Melbourne (no. 1). DDD
ABC CLASSICS 4764836 [73:25] 

This new ABC disc of the Chopin concertos is a collaboration between two Australian orchestras and the Polish pianist Ewa Kupiec. The performances were recorded five years apart. The Melbourne performance of No. 1 is taken from a live recording; this performance is also available on another ABC Classics disc, coupled with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the Vaughan Williams Symphony no. 2. The Chopin piano concertos are presented in reverse number order, with the F minor concerto preceding its E minor companion. There are several possible reasons for this. One is that, like the first two Beethoven concertos, the second was written before the first. Another is that it puts the superior performance and recording at the beginning of the disc.
Although it is presumably a studio recording, the F minor concerto is the more lively of the two readings. The orchestral introduction to the first movement reveals the warm acoustic of the Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, preserved nicely in this recording. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra is among the smaller of the ABC ensembles, but this allows the wind parts to register clearly; the brass have a particularly good presence. The solo entry is quite deliberate, rising to dramatic chords. The pulse is flexible without being pulled around too much, indicating a good understanding between Kupiec and Sebastian Lang-Lessing. Kupiec has an attractive range of tone-colour, and the assured way with Chopin that one associates with Polish pianists. She handles the solo part with delicacy and strength; the lengthy episodes of passage-work are played with clean articulation and careful dynamic contouring. The Larghetto maintains this quality, with a dreamy quality that recalls the Nocturnes. Kupiec enters quietly at the beginning of the Allegro vivace, but builds the tension in the contrasting episodes.
The E minor concerto was recorded six years earlier. Live recordings generally have an extra electricity over those made in a studio, but unfortunately that proves not to be the case here. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is a bigger band than its Tasmanian counterpart, and sounds more upholstered as it works its way through the introduction to the Allegro maestoso. Unfortunately the woolly acoustic of the Hamer Hall circa 2005 rather drains the life out of things. Kupiec was also in more tentative form; her approach to the solo has an air of caution lacking in the F minor concerto. Things pick up somewhat in the Larghetto, with attractive crystalline tone from the soloist; the arpeggiated “music box” passage has an icy beauty. Things finally take off in the Vivace, the opening of which prances around like a frisky colt. Although it finishes strongly, overall this lacks the assurance of its companion.
Artur Rubinstein’s stereo recordings of these concertos date from the late fifties to early sixties; this puts the pianist’s age at seventy-five for the later recording. There was not much that he did not know by then about playing Chopin, and his performances are natural and unaffected. Rubinstein’s timings are actually a bit quicker than those by Kupiec, particularly in the first movement of the F minor concerto (13:15 as against 15:00). The age of the recordings is given away more by the boxy sound of the tuttis than anything else.
Given the number of versions of these concertos available, this one is too inconsistent to be a front-runner. The F minor is very good, the E minor rather patchy. The orchestral contribution is of a high standard in both. The recording of the F minor at least has archival significance, in that it preserves the acoustic of Hamer Hall before its recent redevelopment. Having heard a concert there a few months ago, I can report that the sound is much improved, and recordings made there from now on will sound a lot brighter. Listeners who just want a good Chopin concerto set are advised to investigate one of the numerous alternative versions such as those from Rubinstein, Emanuel Ax, Rafal Blechacz, Yevgeny Kissin or Maurizio Pollini.
Guy Aron 

A rather uneven Chopin concerto set from Ewa Kupiec.