The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’ most recent recording for Linn finds them
joining forces with two artists with whom they are not automatically linked.
The results are fresh and exciting and propel this disc of the Chopin
concertos towards the very top.
The first thing that strikes you is the excellent clarity of the
orchestral sound. The bloom on the Usher Hall acoustic is just right, giving
a lovely sense of presence to the overall sound, and the soundscape created
for the orchestra gives great precision to the instruments. The trombone,
for example, is beautifully captured in the opening tutti
First Concerto – present and important but never dominating – and when the
second subject enters the blend between the strings and winds is just right.
The Linn engineers have consistently shown themselves to be among the very
best in the business for this sort of thing, but this recording impressed me
most particularly. When the SCO played the second concerto as part of their
birthday concert, some commented that the subordinate role
of the orchestra made it a poor choice for such an occasion, but these
recordings show how much can be made of Chopin’s orchestral texture when it
is in the right hands. In fact, this music is ideally suited to being played
by a chamber orchestra, especially one with the SCO’s historically informed
experience, as anyone listening to the translucent, unburdened string sound
at the opening of No. 1
’s slow movement will be able to tell
When she enters in the first concerto, Fliter strides onto the scene with
assertive power but no sense of being overbearing, and throughout the disc,
while there is little doubt that it is the piano that the composer was most
interested in, the overall sense is of a reciprocal conversation between two
equals. Her treatment of the second subject is delicate and nuanced and in
the development she darts delicately over the keyboard, as if she is trying
not to dominate and to draw out the more subtle nuances of this music.
Fliter’s playing style is perfect for Chopin, combining muscular, precise
technique with a rhapsodic sense of letting the melody flow. Listen to the
way she unfurls the piano line in both the slow movements, delicately,
gently letting the music breathe so that the bar lines seem to dissolve and
the gorgeous harmonies take flight. The Larghetto of No. 2
particular, is to die for, Fliter seemingly creating it spontaneously
beneath her fingertips while the orchestra gently look on, as if in
For all the proviso that these are not especially orchestral concertos,
Jun Märkl shapes them very well. The modulation into the major key at the
onset of the development section of No. 1
’s first movement, for
example, is beautifully handled, as is the rhythm of the finales, both of
which move with a careful combination of energy and tact. More generally,
Märkl manages the transition so that these concertos, which can sound
episodic in some hands, flow naturally from one component to another.
Importantly, he allows the individual orchestral instruments their moment in
the sun when the score gives it to them — the extremely characterful winds,
for example, and most especially a knockout bassoon — and the second
concerto is particularly well served by the orchestra’s sense of interplay
with the piano.
I’m very fond of Rubinstein’s RCA disc of the concertos
albeit from a completely different sound world, and Zimerman’s recording
with the Polish Festival Orchestra has an atmosphere and flair that is
impossible to replicate. Fliter’s disc is a winner all-round, however, and
its freshness, clarity and beauty means that it’s the one I’ll be coming
back to most readily when next I want to hear these works.
Previous reviews: Paul
and Brian Wilson