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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No. 1 in G Minor Op.23 (1831-35) [8:46]
Ballade No. 2 in F Major Op.38 (1836-39) [7:35]
Ballade No. 3 in A Flat Major Op.47 (1840-41) [7:05]
Ballade No. 4 in F Minor Op.52 (1842) [11:35]
Fantaisie in F Minor Op. 49 (1841) [12:28]
Berceuse in D Flat Major Op. 57 (1844) [4:51]
Barcarolle in F Sharp Major Op. 60 (1845-6) [8:45]
Rafal Luszczewski (piano)
rec. 2016/17, Olstyn, Poland (live: Ballades); Polish Radio Warsaw
DUX 1627 [61:26]

This is a very impressive recital from Polish pianist Rafal Luszczewski who states “I appreciate the concert performances as the more lively, genuine and authentic than the recordings made in studio. This is due to the fact that the artist's performance of music with the participation of audience, on a concert stage, is accompanied by genuine emotions. Each concert is a rush of adrenaline, which translates into a spontaneous performance, fresh interpretation ideas, liveliness and at the same time authenticity of the artistic message. Nowadays, only a few living artists decide to record such a demanding repertoire in the concert version." I would question that final statement but listening to the four Ballades, one certainly feels an adrenaline rush and the applause at the end is fully justified. I couldn’t see details of the instrument in the notes; the sound throughout is very “present” and the force of the piano and resonance is beautifully captured.

Chopin’s four Ballades are held to be inspired by the Polish Poet Adam Bernard Mickiewicz (1798 –1855). They are the first instrumental ballads but they also function as dance pieces, from the Italian “balata”. Chopin composed them over a ten-year period but they are usually played as a sequence. The first Ballade will be very familiar to lovers of piano music. Chopin uses a thematic development method in transforming themes, drawn from the traditional sonata. Luszczewski is very impressive in the various tempos and uses his instrument to maximum effect to convey the different colours. The second starts quietly before exploding. In the third there are periods of contemplation amid a consistent flow of melody with that hint of melancholy that is always present with this composer. The sustained rhythm of the main tune is captivating. The very helpful notes suggest that there may be echoes of the German poet Heine - the writer of the words to many Schubert lieder ballads including Lorelei. If I had been in the audience, I would have sat transfixed, as reviews of his concerts confirm. There are perhaps some slight reservations in the Fourth Ballade where I felt Luszczewski was slightly laboured; his timing is longer than usual.

The CD continues with three works, recorded in the studios of Polish radio but there is very little, if any, difference in the sound image. The Fantaisie is regarded as a masterpiece and Chopin was delighted with it. He wrote to friend Juliesz Fontana “Today I finished the Fantaisie - and the sky is beautiful. I am sad at heart, but it does not matter. If it were otherwise, maybe my existence would be of no use to anyone”. It is a remarkable work, and aptly the sun was shining when I played the CD after I had enjoyed the spring air in a walk. There are shades of “late” Schubert’s equally melancholic yet melodic spirit. I found Luszczewski’s pacing spot-on here and notice that his timing was almost the same as Dame Myra Hess whose recording, live from the University of Illinois in 1949 (review), was reviewed by here by Jonathan Woolf, I must give that a listen. The Berceuse seems to sum up all that I love in Chopin in less than five minutes. Its theme was taken from a song to Chopin by his mother, it’s a romance entitled “The moon now has risen, the dogs are asleep”. It may be mature Chopin but it does have a childlike quality. The disc ends with the Barcarolle. My idol in this work is Dinu Lipatti (Warners) but Luszczewski is excellent too; I love the flourishes. It is an entirely suitable work to end this disc.

This is a very fine collection of Chopin and it has been a real pleasure to hear well loved pieces in new performances. Luszczewski has, apparently recorded more than ten Chopin CDs and I hope to have the opportunity to hear some of them. I am avoiding any comparisons as, I go along with Sviatoslav Richter who famously said, either a pianist can play or can’t; Luszczewski, emphatically can.

David R Dunsmore

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