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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No. 1 in G Minor Op.23 [9.00]
Nocturne No. 4 in F Major Op.15/1 [4.47]
Ballade No. 2 in F Major Op.38 [7.12]
Nocturne No. 13 in C Minor Op.48/1 [5.45]
Ballade No. 3 in A Flat Major Op.47 [7.42]
Nocturne No. 17 in B Major Op.62/1 [6.34]
Ballade No. 4 in F Minor Op.52 [10.23]
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
rec. 2018, Sendesaal, Radio Bremen SONY CLASSICAL19075822932 [51.23]
Leif Ove Andsnes is one of those rare pianists who can
play an extraordinarily wide range of repertoire to an exceptionally
high standard. Chopin is one of the composers upon whom Andsnes has
not focused in recent years although he recorded the Chopin Sonatas
together with a selection of Mazurkas and Études in the mid-1990s. With
this new recording of the Ballades together with a selection of Nocturnes
he shows what a truly gifted Chopin interpreter he is.
Chopin’s four Ballades were written at various points in the composer’s
career and they are at the pinnacle of the Romantic piano repertoire.
They were inspired by poems by Adam Mickiewicz although the precise
inspiration for each of the pieces is not clear and is disputed. All
the Ballades have a shifting rhapsodic virtuosity moving from moments
of intimacy to full blooded heroism. They are all in compound duple
time – either 6/4 or 6/8 – a musical metre which is common
to traditional folk dances.
The G Minor Ballade opens in an authoritative way with Andsnes displaying
an impressive range of dynamics from the outset. The rubato is subtle
but effective and Chopin’s bel canto melodies float in a sweet
and carefree way. As the music progresses, Andsnes whips up turbulent
storms and engulfing passions but there is also an element of aristocratic
reserve about the playing of which I am sure Chopin would approve. Andsnes’
handling of the leggiero section is absolutely wonderful as sprightly
Schumannesque fantasy elements come to the fore. The climactic coda
is a virtuoso tour de force although I would have liked to hear a little
more fire. The F Major Ballade is dedicated to Schumann and is often
seen as portrait of that composer representing the two extremes of his
personality. The graceful idyllic opening melody has a sweet simplicity
while the ensuing musical storm has an expansive, elemental feel. This
particular Ballade can sometimes come across as fractured but it has
a highly integrated feel here. The coda is handled with amazing digital
dexterity and enormous musicality although I would have liked to hear
a little more of that unbridled feeling that the music calls for.
Andsnes’ performance of the third and fourth Ballades is among
the best I have heard. There is elegant shaping of the line in the A
Flat Ballade and Chopin’s accents are closely observed without
being overdone. The playing is refined and tasteful with Andsnes bringing
out Chopin’s inner voices in a highly musical way. There are elements
of caprice, gorgeous colour changes and highly imaginative textures.
The high point of this recording is the performance of the F Minor Ballade.
The music evolves in a rich and organic way as Andsnes seamlessly integrates
Chopin’s contrapuntal textures and rich counter melodies into
the evolving textures. Chopin’s fioritura are played with enormous
delicacy and imaginative fantasy elements come to the fore. The section
immediately before the coda is absolutely wonderful: the left-hand runs
are played with gossamer lightness of touch before the music builds
in a rapturous way. The coda is a wonderful rhapsodic piece of playing
which would bring the house down in a live recital.
The four Ballades in this recording are interspersed with performances
of three of the nocturnes. The melody of the F Major Nocturne has a
crystalline beauty and the ornamentation played with understated elegance.
The stormy central section is played with weight and depth of sound
as turbulent passions boil up. The C Minor Nocturne with its funeral
march opening has gravitas and poignancy. Andsnes produces a torrent
of octaves which build up to an explosive climax. Andsnes’ performance
of the B Major Nocturne is masterful. One can only marvel as he conjures
up glowing timbres and gorgeous colour changes while the sequences of
trills and ornaments in the final section of the piece is exquisite.
There are some very fine recordings of the Chopin Ballades by artists
such as Zimmerman, Perahia and Hough. There is no doubt that Andsnes
belongs in that exalted company. His performance of the nocturnes is
also exceptionally fine and compares well with the leaders in the field
such as Rubinstein and Arrau.
Overall, this is an exceptionally fine recording and is highly recommended.