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Frédéric CHOPIN (1880-1849)
Preludes Op.28 (1836-39) [40:55]
Etude in E-flat minor Op. 10, No. 6 [3:33]
Waltz in A flat major Op. 69, No. 1 [4:04]
Waltz in A minor Op. 34, No. 2 [5:08]
Waltz in B minor Op. 69, No. 2 [3:07]
Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 31 (1837) [10:03]
Nino Gvetadze (piano)
rec. 2017, Muziekgebouw Frits Philips Eindhoven, The Netherlands.
Reviewed in SACD stereo.

Nino Gvetadze is the veteran of recordings on the Brilliant Classics and Orchid (review) labels, and this is her debut for Challenge Classics. On the title, ‘Ghosts’, Gvetadze says “there comes a point in life when we look back, trying to gain a sense of perspective, and we see ourselves in a different light. We are haunted by memories and doubts, whirring around our minds like ghosts…” She sees these Preludes as “the story of a life… the ghosts of the past,” very much concerned with life itself and about Chopin's life in particular; “a struggle between hope and despair… between the light and the darkness.”

There are of course plenty of recordings of Chopin’s Preludes Op.28 around. I picked out Martha Argerich’s 1974 recording on Deutsche Grammophon (review), almost at random, but it is always interesting to compare and contrast artists recording when at a similar age. Argerich is more extrovert that Gvetadze here and there as you might expect, but this new recording is by no means as intangible as the title could lead us to believe. A comparison of timings is not helpful, with no real consistency to aid analysis. Both pianists allow the music to breathe in entirely natural ways, subtle differences giving individuality to the expression in the music. Gvetadze will pull back at little moments such as in the beautiful Prelude No. 6, Lento assai, keeping the texture transparent through a light touch with the pedal, sounding just a little more spacious than Argerich but maintaining just the right of amount of song-like momentum. The famous and delightfully simple following Andantino is like a musical aphorism, Gvetadze putting a little extra weight on the downbeat, and keeping us more in suspense towards the final notes.

Superbly recorded in gorgeous SACD sound, this is a disc that can stand comparison with all-comers. Artur Rubenstein inevitably comes to mind when talking about great Chopin interpreters, and there are aspects of his RCA recording that throw up some interesting points. That wonderful Prelude No. 9, Largo sees Rubenstein cranking up emotion at the first climax by pushing ahead with the tempo. Gvetadze doesn’t do this, preferring to shape the piece more through dynamics and colour, the rich sonorities making this a real treat. She is fleet of fingers in the following Molto allegro, another miniature, but given just a little more space than Rubenstein did, cutting down a little on the ‘molto’ but none the worse for that in my view.

Dipping into comparisons like this only serve to reveal the sheer quality in this performance, which is full of contrast and continuity, maintaining the feel of a recital while carefully delineating the vast spectrum of moods in Chopin’s Op. 28. There isn’t much controversy in the interpretations, but they are by no means generic or impersonal. The lyrical lines are dreamy; those repeated note accompaniments shaped and given an appropriate sense of direction. The turbulent drama in something like the Prelude No. 16, presto con fuoco is powerfully present but not over-cooked, and favourites such as the tragedy-infused Prelude No. 20, Largo brought a tear to my eye, especially the sotto voce moment towards the end, which is exactly the way things should be.

The programme concludes with a few nicely chosen fillers, the poignant mood of the Etude in E-flat minor Op. 10, No. 6 a perfect foil to the passionate conclusion to the Preludes. The trio of waltzes should by no means be glossed over, Gvetadze performing them with clear affection, and giving them an expressive touch that highlights their distinctive qualities. The finale is the great Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 31, one of Chopin’s heroic statements, but with plenty of ghostly associations, a quote from one of his pupils Wilhelm von Lenz in the booklet reminding us that the composer insisted that elements of the work “must be a [musical] charnel house.” When it comes to Chopin and piano recordings this one is very much the real thing, and richly deserving of your urgent attention.

Dominy Clements



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