Ingrid Fliter has made a name for herself as a Chopin player, since the
appearance of a pair of discs in 2008-9 on EMI
and the two concertos in 2014 on Linn
. This new disc from Linn has already collected the sort
of praise that can only increase her reputation as an interpreter of the
Here we have the set of Preludes Op. 28 and a group of five mazurkas and
two nocturnes. This is fiercely contested territory. Recordings of Chopin’s
Preludes could serve almost as a single reference point for a history of
Chopin playing, from Cortot in the 1920s via Rubinstein in the 1940s, and on
to the 1970s: a golden age with recordings from Pollini, Ashkenazy, Arrau
and Argerich. There have been many since, but few or none to join such a
‘Preludes Pantheon’. Does Fliter belong in this exalted fellowship? To start
to answer that, you need to tolerate a small digression.
It is worth noting at the outset that Fliter takes over forty minutes for
the set, whereas for me the benchmark is the Cortot-to-Pollini range of
34-37 minutes. Can overall timing matter in a set of 24 individual pieces?
That depends on the degree to which we think it is more than a set of
pieces, and designed as an integrated unity. Jim Samson, the Chopin
authority, contends in his excellent booklet note for the CD, “the
individual preludes make up a single over-arching whole, a real cycle”.
There is obviously a strictly organized sequence of all 24 major and minor
keys, and an alternation of fast and slow, introspective and extrovert. Some
pieces are just too short to stand alone, being 35-40 seconds long (numbers
1, 5, 10 and 11), and some analysts point to certain motivic links across
the set. So it is in some sense a continuous single work, and that is how it
is almost always played in concert. Therefore on disc I always listen
through at a sitting, and expect the experience of the whole to be greater
than the sum of its 24 parts. I don’t expect to do that with Chopin’s
waltzes or nocturnes or even the two sets of studies.
Fliter’s Op.28 does not yet quite grip me throughout in that holistic way
that would admit her to the company of the elect listed above. That said, it
is clearly among the most important accounts of recent years, along with
Pollini’s second recording of 2012, which challenged, without quite
superseding, his younger self from 1975. Take any prelude on its own and you
will be struck by Fliter’s technical control, poetic insight, pellucid tone
and feeling for the Chopin idiom or perhaps it is better to say one approach
to the Chopin idiom. There is always a certain hauteur
music — as there was in the man — and that is why when describing great
Chopin playing by Cortot, Rachmaninov, Rubinstein and Michelangeli, critics
have so often reached for such adjectives as ‘aristocratic’ or ‘patrician’.
Fliter is not exactly of that type, as, with her, overt expression is rather
less reined in than with those artists. For example, in the B minor Sixth
prelude, she adopts a slow tempo and gets a wonderfully rapt quality in
response to the marking Lento Assai
- “too assai
taste” complained The Guardian
’s critic. Indeed it is, at
points, so halting in its search for feeling as almost to obscure the arc of
the piece, but there is no doubt about her total identification with the
mood. Again with the 13th
prelude in A minor, another
, Fliter is quite exquisite but also quite expansive: 3:36
compared to 2:28 in Pollini 1975 and 2:22 in Pollini 2012. In the swifter
preludes she is often impressively virtuosic, but the tempi are not at all
hectic, so that clarity is never sacrificed for velocity. Both the Molto
in F sharp minor and the great concluding
in D minor bring
scintillating, dramatic performances.
So a very fine account of Op.28 overall, but there is more to come than
mere makeweights. First, the five mazurkas and two preludes account for a
good thirty minutes of playing time, so you get a small and very lyrical
recital even if you start at track 25. Second, they include some of the
best-loved of Chopin miniatures, ending with the great D flat nocturne.
Third, they are all superbly done, comparable to the best recent accounts.
It is to be hoped that their existence on this issue will not deter Linn
from providing complete surveys of the mazurkas or nocturnes from Ingrid
Fliter in due course. If you can’t wait for more of Fliter’s Chopin, Linn
have made the Trois Ecossaises
available as a
The company’s SACD sound is up to its usual high standard, apart from some
slight hardness in the treble on occasion - easily tamed unless you are a
purist who disdains tone controls. If, like me, you are a purist who
sometimes imagines that true Chopin playing — or its recording — died out
around 1980, this is a disc to make you think again.