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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op.23 (1835–36) [9:22]
Ballade No.2 in F major, Op.38 (1836–39) [7:35]
Ballade No.3 in A flat major, Op.47 (1841) [7:21]
Ballade No.4 in F minor, Op.52 (1842–43) [11:26]
Scherzo No.3 in C sharp minor, Op.39 (1839–40) [6:50]
Polonaise in A flat major, No.6, Op.53 (1842–43) [6:49]
Impromptu No. 3 in G flat major, Op.51 (1843) [4:35]
Nocturne in F major, Op.15, No.1 (1830-33) [5:02]
Waltz in A flat major, Op. 42 (1840) [3:46]
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op.50, No.3 (1842) [4:55]
Philippe Entremont (piano)
rec. 1955, 1959 (Ballades)
IDIS 6739 [67:47]

French pianist Philippe Entremont (b. 1934) rose quickly to international renown after winning the 1952 Queen Elisabeth Competition. He began performing at the most prestigious venues and with the major orchestras and conductors. He also made many recordings, most prolifically with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He has played much Chopin, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Saint-Saëns and many others, from JS Bach to Gershwin and Stravinsky. He later turned to conducting, taking posts with the New Orleans Philharmonic, Denver Symphony, and other orchestras. Currently, he serves as conductor laureate with both the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and Israel Chamber Orchestra. His recordings as a pianist began thinning out from around the mid-1970s, but were supplemented by those of him as conductor. Despite his activities on the podium, he has generally remained fairly active at the keyboard in the latter part of his career.

The recordings on this Idis CD are identified with their original dates only. Thus, the label that first issued them and the performance locations are not given in the sparse accompanying material (no album notes). Entremont was doing many recordings for Columbia (CBS) from the mid-1950s and so I would guess that at least the Ballades may have been recorded for that label. According to one internet source, the Ballades were indeed recorded for Columbia and the other performances for Concert Hall/Musical Masterpiece Society.

The transfers were made by Danilo Prefumo in April, 2019. They are reasonably good, though there is a background hum in some of the pieces, and except for Ballade No.1 and Scherzo No.3 the music sounds as though it comes directly from an LP, not the master tapes. Still, the four Ballades have reasonably decent sonics. All the recordings from 1955 - that is, everything but the Ballades - have variable sound, and Scherzo No.3 and Mazurka in C sharp minor sound both more distant and as if recorded in a bad acoustical environment. For example, some of the detail in both works sounds muddy and the highs blunted. The rest from 1955 are better but lag well behind the standards of the best recordings from the 1950s.

All of Entremont’s performances are phrased imaginatively and played with impressive technique. The Ballades are perhaps the most convincing of them. In fact, if the sonics were better—and they’re not actually bad—I would consider them among my favorite accounts. The tempos, generally in the moderate range, are well chosen, and the playing is always sensitive to the emotional thrust of the music. Entremont’s technique is fully up to the demands of the often challenging music. His Scherzo No.3 is also excellent and would be another highly recommendable performance were it not for the clangorous, murky sound. Though his Polonaise in A flat is reasonably good, it is rather straightforward and not particularly subtle in its phrasing. The Impromptu No.3 is certainly very well played and divulges much meaningful detail, even if some of the faster music is a bit breathlessly paced.

Entremont’s account of the hypnotic Nocturne in F major is beautifully performed in the outer sections though with a slight mechanical phrasing, which I think may be due more to the sound. The middle section is appropriately stormy and the performance on the whole is reasonably good. The Waltz in A flat major is impressively played, the pianist taking the Vivace marking somewhat on the brisk side but still providing much detail and maintaining the sense of elegance and gracefulness needed. The Mazurka in C sharp minor comes across quite well but has a lighter approach than is customary and while many will find it to their liking, I’m a little dubious about it. Still, on its own terms it is a fine effort.

While Chopin mavens have tended to look to Rubinstein, Cliburn and and others from the past, and more recently perhaps to Fialkowska and Mursky, Entremont is certainly worth hearing if the somewhat sub-standard sound isn’t a major concern. Obviously, the pianist’s fans will also want this disc. Otherwise, this CD will have limited appeal.

Robert Cummings

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