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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810–1849)
24 Preludes, Op. 28 [38.08]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op 35 [25.42]
Grave – Doppio movimento [7.56]
Scherzo [6.19]
Marche funèbre [7.49]
Presto [1.36]
Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31 [9.56]
Cédric Tiberghien (piano)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 2016
HYPERION CDA68194 [71.47]

In his most recent Chopin recording, French pianist, Cédric Tiberghien, focuses on the Polish composer at his most daring and innovative. Robert Schumann described the Preludes as “all disorder and wild confusions” while the Funeral March Sonata was “four of his most unruly children”. There are superb recordings of both these works by some of the 20th Century’s greatest pianists – e.g., Cortot in the Preludes and Rachmaninov in the ‘Funeral March’ Sonata – so the bar is necessarily set very high when making comparisons.

Overall, Tiberghien’s performance of the Preludes was excellent and he provided many fascinating insights into these extraordinary miniatures. His performance of the B Minor was highly poetic while he captured perfectly the stormy, elemental turbulence of the F sharp minor. The F sharp major had a glowing lyricism while his account of the E flat minor was probing and original very much in Arrau mould. The opening of the ‘Raindrop’ Prelude was refined and artful and there was a marked contrast with the dark, rich sonorities in the central section. Tiberghien brought out the supreme songful quality of the A flat while the F minor showed Chopin at his most modern and original. In the F Major he spun a gentle delicate web of sound although the tempo was a little slow. Tiberghien ended the set in style with an imposing and dramatic performance of the D Minor Prelude. Notwithstanding the very high quality of the playing I had some reservations. The extraordinary left hand harmonies in the A minor Prelude were glossed over and the G Major with its running left hand semiquavers could have been played with more gossamer lightness of touch. The powerful B flat minor Prelude also sounded a little fingery and Tiberghien lost momentum at various points (contrast this with Martha Argerich’s barnstorming approach). However, these are minor quibbles and should not detract from the exceptionally high quality of the playing. Cortot’s wonderful recording of the Preludes continues to reign supreme but this is certainly a welcome addition to the discography by Tiberghien.

As in the Preludes, there was much to admire in Tiberghien’s account of Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ Sonata. The first movement opened in imposing fashion and Tiberghien succeeded in capturing the breadth and broad sweep of this extraordinary music. The scherzo could have been a little tauter rhythmically but the there was a wonderful contrast between the outer sections of this movement and limpid lyricism of the trio. Tiberghien summoned dark sepulchral colours from his Steinway in the Marche Funébre and the movement grew in icy intensity. The colour shift in the central section was beguilingly beautiful and provided a balm to the sting of death. The swirling contours of the Finale were very clean (there are no pedal markings in Chopin’s score until the final few bars) although the tempo seemed to slow on a few occasions which detracted from the overall impact of the music. There was some very fine playing here although the level of invention was not as consistently good as other great interpreters of this music such as Perahia, Pollini or indeed Rachmaninov.

Tiberghien concluded his recital with Chopin’s Second Scherzo in B flat minor which was written in 1837. The startling dynamic contrasts of the opening were closely observed and there was beautiful shaping of Chopin’s melodies and judicious use of rubato. The quavers in the trio’s Presto section were played with quicksilver lightness of touch and Tiberghien allowed the music to build in a thrilling way. The coda was a real adrenaline rush and provided a fitting conclusion to a very fine recital.

Robert Beattie



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