Traditionalists may rue the day, but the historical performance movement has come to Chopin, and it's clear it has a lot to offer in this release by Argentine pianist Nelson Goerner and the veteran Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century under Frans Brüggen. Goerner plays an 1849 Erard instrument, some 20 years younger than the music of the youthful Chopin that's on the program, but arguably representative of a sound ideal he would have had in his head.
This spectacular set features a quintessential selection of western sacred music that that will please one and all, from an inquisitive novice to a discerning connoisseur. It features a vast array of critically acclaimed recordings of more than seventy cornerstone works, ranging from the earliest Christian chants to gospel songs and Gershwin's blues. The performers include some of today's finest artists, including René Jacobs, Philippe Herreweghe, Paul Hillier and William Christie. Offered at a special low price, this limited edition set is packaged in a luxury clamshell style box containing 29 discs of music and one PDF disc with sung texts.
The Sixteen, bright stars of the Baroque, have plenty to say on 20th-century repertoire (witness their excellent Britten series on Collins). Underpin them with the BBC Philharmonic and it might seem a magic formula. Ives’s unearthly The Unanswered Question holds few problems for instrumental players weaned on Maxwell Davies – no more than do the brilliant wind roulades of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Deft BBC teamwork and a chamber articulation to woodwind and brass helps this Koussevitzky-commissioned masterpiece to shed its often hammy ‘big band’ sound, creeping closer to the subtle, leaner sonorities of his later choral works. It gains. The singing varies. Too many dynamic shifts sound prosaic or under-prepared; fortes are forced, with muddy results. The vocal blend (happier in lower voices) can seem haphazard and colours the Tippett, where the men’s roars – contrast the lovely, sensual soprano solo – seem crude. Get this disc, instead, for the rare, late Poulenc – his New York-commissioned Sept répons. It is a curiously under-recorded devotional work, bleeding with pathos yet pumping energy, its exoticism enhanced by slightly breathy, tender solos, and scintillatingly sung with just those crucial missing qualities of awe and freshness. A million times more refined than what goes before.
The new recordings of Chopin's works on period instruments allow contemporary listeners to discover the historical models, bringing us closer to the original and to the long-forgotten sound of the Romantic era.