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Frédéric (Fryderyk) CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Études Opus 10 and Opus 25
Details after review
Matthew Cameron (piano)
Download only.

I was pleased to have a further opportunity to hear and review the latest offering from the virtuoso pianist Matthew Cameron.  His earlier recording for Arabesque, Romantic Favorites, featured Chopin, Liszt and some of his own compositions (Z6833 – DL News 2013/14) and I also reviewed and liked his Liszt recording for Cala (DL News 2014/2).

Each of the Chopin Études concentrates on a particular aspect of piano technique and the set as a whole can be performed only by pianists who have mastered every problem associated with piano playing. This new recording of the complete Études confirms that Matthew Cameron is well up to the task involved, but not only technically, because this work requires a performer who understands the musical implications which will make the complete set convincing as a satisfying and magnificent whole.

In the first Étude of Opus 10 I felt that the recorded balance was rather too weighted to the left hand, and you can really hear the difference if you compare this with the glittering semiquavers in Murray Perahia’s performance on Sony Classics (review) but I liked Cameron’s dynamic variety, especially his soft playing, and his judicious pedalling. Cameron’s singing tone is apparent in the main theme of the third Étude which has a light and delicate semiquaver accompaniment. The occasional note (e.g. the second semiquaver in bar 1) can barely be heard but the music has a nice flow and I liked the elegiac quality of the return of the main theme. At the poco più animato, Cameron builds his climaxes well as his virtuosity comes to the fore.

In Étude No.4, he employs his virtuoso technique to scintillating effect and every semiquaver is perfectly in place. Chopin’s dynamic and expression marks are carefully observed and Matthew Cameron makes an exciting conclusion to the piece. He gives a convincing and moving performance of Étude No.6, exploiting the expressive qualities of the piece to the full. After building to a fine climax, his return to the melancholy and sadness of the opening is very touching. I prefer this to the quicker and emotionally rather uninvolved version by Murray Perahia.

Cameron is again slower than Perahia in No.7 which is marked vivace, but this allows for greater clarity in the texture, resulting in a more musical performance. Perahia produces a more powerful climax at the end of the piece where it is marked fortissimo, but again I prefer Cameron’s approach to this piece. In Étude No.8, Cameron’s right hand is scintillating in its clarity. This is very difficult to play but the musical shape of the phrasing in the left hand is always maintained. I am not convinced by Cameron’s pianissimo ending! At this point Perahia plays fortissimo, as marked by Chopin.

Étude No.9 in F minor is a melancholic piece but Cameron gives it a nice swing. He begins with a light touch, and subtle pedalling throughout contributes to the success of this performance. The musical line is always maintained in Étude No.11 in spite of the technical difficulties presented by the arpeggiated chords. This is a delicate and attractive performance.

Opus 10 concludes with the famous Revolutionary Study. This is a fast and furious virtuoso performance, although somewhat idiosyncratic. Sometimes the left-hand semiquavers cannot be clearly heard at this speed but maybe this is a deliberate effect. Occasionally the pedalling seems a bit arbitrary, adding a touch of blurriness here and there, for example from bar 73 where the music almost seems to come to a halt at one place. I wondered why Cameron adds an extra chord in bar 55! Istvan Szekely on Amadis plays with great clarity in spite of the fast tempo, but he lacks imagination and his recording is rather boxy. Masako Ezaki on Triton is true to the text, but the master here is Perahia whose thrilling performance has everything: excitement, flair and panache combined with clarity and subtlety of expression.

Matthew Cameron’s performance of Opus 25 No.1 is characterised by beautifully shaped phrases, and in spite of extremes of rubato when once or twice the music almost comes to a halt, the flow is nevertheless maintained. It is preferable to Niu Niu who is well-recorded on Warner Classics but comparatively uninspired, although traditional sounding and accurate. Andrei Gavrilov’s performance on Warner Classics (review) is similar but more interesting.

Cameron plays the triplet quavers of No.2 with a light touch, and I particularly like the melodic shaping of the middle section in No.5 where the left-hand melody is nicely balanced by the right-hand triplets and semiquavers. He has better control over the evenness of tone in the outer sections than Gavrilov, and his central section is more convincing.

The difficult right-hand semiquavers in thirds present no problem for Cameron in Étude No.6, which he plays with attractive tone and phrasing. No.7 is a truly elegiac masterpiece and provides the central pivot for the Opus 25 set. Perahia’s performance is very fine indeed, but Cameron’s performance is considerably slower and imbued with deep feeling and passion. I much enjoyed this superb performance which proves beyond doubt that the Études are so much more than mere pianistic showpieces. Cameron plays with refinement of touch and beautiful tone and he builds the music to a magnificent climax at fff before reaching the conclusion with its final sense of resignation.

No.8, in sixths, is played with a variety of touch and an attractive, light non-legato in softer playing. I find Perahia’s recording preferable here with his more consistently even legato.

I particularly like the phrasing and expressive qualities in the central nocturne-like passage of No.10 in octaves, where Cameron sometimes pushes the inner voices through the texture attractively. There is much poetry to be enjoyed here.

No.11 is one of the longest and most virtuosic of the Études and it requires consistent stamina. Cameron plays magnificently and I liked the idea of adding a few extra soft passages to those marked by Chopin. Niu Niu’s virtuosity is outstanding, but again the performance seems rather cold and uninteresting. Finally, Cameron’s performance of the whirlwind drama of No.12 is well-focused and, whilst being faithful to the text, is full of ideas.

My benchmark recording of these works remains that by Murray Perahia and his recording is outstanding. The piano tone is warmer than that on Arabesque for Cameron and this dryness sometimes results in hardness of tone, especially in very loud, left had octaves and chords. But Matthew Cameron’s Chopin playing is of the highest order and well worth hearing. Mr. Cameron shows that he is young musician with much to offer, always poetic and expressive as well as virtuosic. He puts his own stamp on his performances, and this recording is up there with the very best available.

Geoffrey Molyneux

I had intended to add a few words to Geoffrey Molyneux’s review, but he has covered this recording in such professional detail, as usual, that there is very little for me to add.  I’m by no means a Chopin expert but I enjoyed this recording as much as he did, even by comparison with Murray Perahia (Sony 88843062432, 6 CDs, budget price – reviewreview) and, I would add, my other benchmark, Maurizio Pollini (DG Originals 4793768, mid-price, or E4630512, with Ballades (Zimerman), Sonata No.2 (Ugorski), etc., download only).  It is possible still to purchase the Perahia recording separately as a download but the whole 6-CD set costs little more: for example, in lossless sound from Qobuz, the separate album costs £10.29, the 6-disc set only £12.89.

We received the recording for review as web files; I’m not sure at what bit-rate.  I also listened to the streamed version from Qobuz and the small reservations about recording balance remain, even as heard from there.  The Arabesque web-site gives a link to Amazon (US) where the album can be downloaded in mp3 for $8.99 but Amazon downloads tend to be at no better than 256 kb/s, so UK and European readers should be better advised to sample and purchase in lossless sound from Qobuz for the same price (£7.99) that Amazon UK charge for mp3.  Qobuz subscribers can stream the whole album before purchase; others can sample.  No-one offers the booklet, which leaves me unable to give a recording date.

Brian Wilson

Étude Op.10/1 in C [2:07]
Étude Op.10/2 in a minor [1:36]
Étude Op.10/3 in E [4:44]
Étude Op.10/4 in c sharp minor [2:03]
Étude Op.10/5 in G flat [1:45]
Étude Op.10/6 in e flat minor [3:32]
Étude Op.10/7 in C [1:43]
Étude Op.10/8 in F [3:37]
Étude Op.10/9 in f minor [2:27]
Étude Op.10/10 in A flat [2:46]
Étude Op.10/11 in E flat [3:00]
Étude Op.10/12 in c minor [2:56]
Étude Op.25/1 in A flat [3:04]
Étude Op.25/2 in f minor [1:43]
Étude Op.25/3 in F [2:09]
Étude Op.25/4 in a minor [1:59]
Étude Op.25/5 in e minor [3:46]
Étude Op.25/6 in g sharp minor [2:24]
Étude Op.25/7 in c sharp minor [6:14]
Étude Op.25/8 in D flat [1:14]
Étude Op.25/9 in G flat [1:05]
Étude Op.25/10 in b minor [1:41]
Étude Op.25/11 in a minor [3:58]
Étude Op.25/12 in c minor [2:53]

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