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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Etudes, Op. 10 (1829-32) [28:52]
Etudes, Op. 25 (1832-36) [31:27]
Trois Nouvelles Etudes (1839) [6:04]
Radoslav Kvapil (piano)
rec. 1997 (no location given)
RUSSIAN COMPACT DISC RCD30109 [66:23]

Firstly, and most importantly, this set of Chopin Etudes is magnificently played and hearing them has reinforced by intense love of Chopin. If I may be forgiven for personal reminiscing, I recall my grandfather playing Chopin with great feeling when I was seven and loved his Chopin LP by Dinu Lipatti. The third Etude, in E major Op.10 No.3 was used as the soundtrack for a sixties American series on the Golden age of silent comedy and was also hummed by my father-in-law. This set was recorded by Radoslav Kvapil in 1997 and re-mastered in 2005.

Kvapil (b. 15 March 1934) is an internationally acclaimed Czech pianist born in Brno. At the end of the 20th century, he devoted his concert programmes to works by Chopin, particularly in the Chopin International Piano Festival in Nohant. On 21 October 2016 he gave a recital of Beethoven, Chopin, DvořŠk, JanŠček and Martinů at St Mary's parish church in Hay-on-Wye. I found an article in “The Hay-on-Wye Times” where it stated that the world’s top Czech pianist has said he would shrug off the cool temperatures inside the Church to help raise the £30,000 needed for a new boiler and heating system. So the chair of St Mary’s Music Committee, John Funnell, who had known Kvapil for nearly 40 years, was overjoyed when this “very exciting celebrity” accepted his invitation to give a recital. It must have been quite an occasion for the audience of 160 or so.

Widely known as expert performer of Czech piano music, Kvapil has recorded numerous discs of works by DvořŠk, Smetana, Martinů, JanŠček, VořŪšek, NovŠk and Suk. I have in my collection his acclaimed recording of Martinů on Regis and noted that the reviewer had heard a broadcast in the early 1970s of the DvořŠk Piano Concerto in which Kvapil was soloist. Between 1993 and 1996 he recorded for Unicorn eight CDs to form an Anthology of Czech Music. There were one each for DvořŠk, Martinů, Vorisek, Fibich, JanŠček and Suk as well as two for Smetana. All were reissued at bargain price by Regis initially and now some are issued separately by Alto (Fibich, Dvorak, Janacek, Smetana including one box now (ALC 4005).

The playing throughout belies any thought of Chopin as an insipid composer. There’s delicacy but also great force and the Polish spirit comes through. I would especially mention the 4th and 12th Etudes from the First Set, the final two from Opus 25 and the Trois Nouvelles Etudes which were not so well known to me. The final one in D Flat major brings the recital to an apt close. My comparison was interesting as I found Ashkenazy slightly self-regarding with the 3rd Etude, compared with Kvapil, although it’s a magnificent achievement. Jonathan Woolf thought highly of Ashkenazy’s earlier recording (Melodiya), and I sampled from this and liked it considerably although he acknowledged the greater flexibility of a 1975 recording that I have in a large 50 Years on Decca set; a set which contains many landmark recordings. Overall, I felt that Kvapil can compete with any Chopin players and I’ll certainly look out for other recordings (there are three on the Musical Concepts label). I also hope that he may pay another visit to the UK. The disc has detailed notes on the music and the performer.

At a time when music has such power to stimulate, relax and help well-being, I found this CD a sheer joy and am delighted to have heard it.

David R Dunsmore



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