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Claude DEBUSSY (1861-1918)
Suite Bergamasque: Clair de Lune
, L75 [5:44]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in D-flat, Op. 27/2 [6:05]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Für Elise (Bagatelle in a minor, WoO59) [3:00]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Seasons
, Op.37b: October (‘Autumn Song’) [4:54]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptu in E-flat, D899/2 [4:51]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kinderszenen
, Op.15: Traümerei [2:43]
Arabeske in C, Op.18 [6:59]
Franz SCHUBERT
Impromptu in G-flat, D899/3 [7:38]
Frédéric CHOPIN
Nocturne in c sharp minor, Op. posth. [3:57]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Twelve Variations on Ah! Vous dirais-je, maman, K265 [9:04]
Myung-Whun Chung (piano)
rec. Teatro la Fenice, Venice, July 2013. DDD
ECM NEW SERIES 2342 (4810765) [54:55]

Although we normally think of Myung-Whun Chung as a conductor, this album of popular piano pieces reminds us what a fine and thoughtful pianist he is. We are also reminded that Chung began his career as a pianist, winning second prize in the 1974 Tchaikovsky competition.
 
The first piece, Clair de lune, starts very slowly but Chung soon moves forward with an effective, but seemingly carefully calculated rubato. The performance feels carefully structured in terms of dynamics and rubato, everything is well-balanced and the pedalling is just right. I don’t feel the sense of carefree abandon which lends many performances that sense of loss of direction. This is well played indeed and very much to my liking.
 
Chopin’s D flat Nocturne, Op. 27 No.2, follows and there is beautiful and stylish playing here. All is well and subtly controlled, Chung produces an attractive tone, plays with great delicacy where required and builds to an excellent climax. There is so much clarity here but I just find the semiquaver accompaniment a bit ‘notey’. Further on Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor is also attractively played with seemingly perfect rubato and building well to the gentle climaxes. Chung always moves forward without the sentimentality we often hear in this piece. I wonder why he pedals through the rests in the two bars of introduction and why he lifts the pedal, creating a strange jerkiness in the passage immediately before the return of the main theme.
 
Für Elise is taken fairly quickly and it has just enough rubato to make this performance very effective. Tchaikovsky’s Autumn Song is a beautiful little gem, reminiscent of Chopin and full of nostalgia and pathos in Chung’s hands. This performance is for my money the most perfectly and beautifully played piece on the CD. His account of Schubert’s Impromptu in E flat major shows us that Chung has lost none of his finger dexterity during the years he has been concentrating on his conducting career. I found the outer sections too quick for my taste – it is marked allegro not prestissimo. In spite of the speed and generous pedalling, every note can be heard with great clarity. In contrast, later on the disc we here the G flat major impromptu played at a good tempo with eloquence and expressivity. Chung’s pedalling allows for crystal clarity, but this can make the constantly-moving quaver accompaniment sound a bit ‘notey’, as mentioned before regarding the Chopin. Also this draws our attention to the occasional quaver which doesn’t quite sound or not perhaps as Chung intended.
 
Schumann’s Träumerei is given a simple but elegant performance, not over-romanticised, and this is followed by a fine account of the Arabesque with its extraordinary and unexpected conclusion. Chung gives an excellent performance with great attention to detail, including the passages where the bass line becomes staccato.
 
Finally Myung-Whun Chung demonstrates his excellent credentials as a player in the Classical style in Mozart’s Variations on Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman. Each of the ten variations is characterfully played, often with great wit and humour.
 
Although the pieces on this disc are very well-known, short and comparatively slight in emotional range, Chung nevertheless takes them all very seriously. His interpretations appear deeply thought out and the result of many years of experience in serious music-making. Chung’s performances are always thought-provoking and this is a very attractive and well-recorded collection.
 
Geoffrey Molyneux
 
A short postscript. The album can be downloaded for £4.20 from emusic.com, mp3 only and, as usual from this source, not at the best of bit-rates – as low as 180kb/s for the opening Clair de Lune. The sound is perfectly tolerable, even heard through good audio equipment. You will have to pay more than twice that amount to obtain the best mp3 or m4a, at 320kb/s, from 7digital.com.
 
Like Geoff Molyneux, I at first thought there was a bit too much of the lune and not enough of the clair about the opening piece. Although Chung clocks in at 5:44 overall for a piece which usually takes a little over four minutes, matters soon improve and the attractions outweigh any small reservations. Pieces like Träumerei are especially well served.
 
Perhaps the closing Mozart variations on the tune known in Anglophone countries as Twinkle, twinkle, little star, are taken a little too seriously at the outset. Then you remember that part of the fun of Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Tune is that the work starts portentously – maestoso – before breaking into this same cheeky little tune.
 
Fans of Myung-Whun Chung’s conducting may be interested to note that his recording of Saint-Saëns Samson et Dalila (EMI/Warner – review of earlier reissue), widely regarded as the best available, can be downloaded in 320kb/s mp3 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk for just £6.99 and 12 Nectar points for UK customers. Expect a review in a forthcoming DL News.
 
Brian Wilson