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Acte Prealable Polish CDs

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Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
24 Preludes, Op 28 (1836-8) [41:31]
4 Nocturnes: Op 27 No 1 in C-sharp minor (1836) [5:32], Op 55 No 1 in F minor (1855) [5:39], Op 27 No 2 in D-flat major (1836) [6:29], Op 62 No 2 in E major (1846) [6:34]
Jorge Bolet (piano)
rec. June 1987, St. Barnabas, North Finchley
Presto CD
DECCA 421 363-2 [65:00]

Lovers of sublime music in the hands of fine piano playing are in for a treat. They will be very grateful to Presto for selecting this 1987 Decca recording to be part of their programme to issue well-regarded but hard-to-find deleted CDs. In this case I see that the requested price for a second-hand copy is up to five times of this brand-new product which is identical to the original.

Chopin’s Preludes are an inspirational and awe-inspiring collection. Listening to such a supreme performance one is transported to another world. I really didn’t want them to end, such was the rapt attention they commanded; this is not always the case. The Preludes have always been favourite works for me since I heard the complete set by Maurizio Pollini on DG in the late 1980s. The date is significant as it was adjacent to the original release by this Cuban-American pianist who is recorded in the very suitable venue of St. Barnabas, North Finchley. It’s an acoustic that captures Bolet’s playing magnificently. There is an earlier recording of the Preludes from 1974, recorded live in the Carnegie Hall. This was released as part of Philips’ “Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century”. Whilst I have not heard it, I find it hard to believe that it is superior in terms of home listening to this CD which has all the benefits of a live recital without any sniffing, coughing and shuffling. I heard from very good and highly musical friends that this CD was excellent, but at the time I felt that Pollini’s CD was sufficient. It was before I got into purchasing multiple versions. I did however wonder what was so special about this set and now I know; it’s magnificent.

On my first hearing, and without originally intending to, I played the CD the whole way through which is not always the case. Right from the opening Preludes it’s clear one is in the presence of a master who totally understands Chopin and has absorbed both the arc and the detail of these pieces. The “Raindrop” No 15 is special, but then so for example is the third in G major and the more tender E minor No 4. I decided that I wouldn’t compare these performances with others which I now regard highly. I am speaking of Ashkenazy and Argerich, to name two and, for many, Rubinstein. Listening closely, one can see the development from Beethoven and Schubert that will lead to Schumann and Brahms but Bolet gives us 100% Chopin. Who has written a more heartfelt piece than No 7, the Prelude in A minor? The addition of four Nocturnes is the icing on the cake. They compare favourably with my go-to set by Maria JoŃo Pires (DG).

Presto have done a great service by issuing this classic set and I look forward to renewing acquaintance with it when I need transporting to another world.

David R Dunsmore



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