Deutsche Grammophon's five-CD trimline box set of the complete concerto recordings by Maria João Pires, packaged in separate sleeves with their original cover art, focuses quite appropriately on her area of specialization, the piano concertos of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The first CD offers her eloquent performances of Frédéric Chopin's Piano Concertos No. 1 and No. 2, in performances conducted by Emmanuel Krivine and André Previn, respectively, and Disc 5 closes with her refined reading of Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor. Between them are seven piano concertos by Mozart, with six of those performances conducted by Pires' longtime collaborator, Claudio Abbado, who also led the Schumann, while one of the Mozart performances was directed by Frans Brüggen.
Before Steinway grand pianos existed, two of the leading makes were Erard and Pleyel – both French. Chopin liked them for different reasons. Playing an Erard from 1837, the Russian-born pianist Alexei Lubimov finds more power than expected in the stormiest passages of the Ballades, but it’s in the mesmerising lull of the Berceuse that the instrument really comes into its own. Never has that left-hand accompaniment sounded quite so haunting, nor the right hand so silvery: these seem like the music’s authentic qualities, and there is no sense of struggle against a mechanical opponent.
Multi-award-winning composer Paul Reale has a distinctly American voice, enriched and given touches of familiarity through references to folk idiom and musical ancestors such as Bartók and Kodály. This program brings together Reale’s works for cello and piano. His earliest, Séance, is a haunting combination of modernist sounds and Baroque melodies. The operatic Cello Sonata No. 1 daringly uses What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor as the backbone of its finale, and the recent Chopin’s Ghosts explores the Romantic composer’s long, weaving lines and evokes his poetic spirit.
The very best of Deutsche Grammophon’s piano recordings on 40 CDs, limited edition. From Aimard (The Art of Fugue) to Zimerman (his prize-winning Debussy Preludes on 1 CD for the first time), comprising all the great names – Argerich, Barenboim, Michelangeli, Gilels, Haskil, Horowitz, Kempff, Kissin, Pogorelich, Pollini, Richter; and the new names – Blechacz, Grimaud, Lang Lang, Trifonov, Yuja Wang, Yundi – this is the ideal set to form the cornerstone of a piano collection.
Pianist Dong Hyek Lim, a bit older than the youthful face in the graphics might suggest, has gained a reputation as a Chopin specialist, with restrained, often exquisitely detailed performances made for the small recital hall rather than for the concert hall. This was, of course, the kind of venue for which Chopin wrote most of his music, and this is a very fine tour through the much-recorded 24 Preludes, Op. 28, which form the centerpiece of this album. Lim does well to introduce things with the flashier and rarely played Variations brillantes in B flat major, Op. 12, commanding the listener's attention before delving into the Preludes, some of the most harmonically intricate music Chopin wrote. Sample any of the really famous Preludes, such as the Prelude in E minor, Op. 28, No. 4, for an idea of what Lim is up to here: he not only lingers over dissonances, but explores their potential directions with sensitivity and intelligence, all while keeping the top of the dynamic range not very high. Lim takes you back to the public world with the Berceuse in D flat major, Op. 57, and Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60, which show him to be capable of a more brilliant style. London's Henry Wood Hall fits these pieces well, but Warner's engineers might have gone with even a more intense, intimate space for the preludes. In any event, the performance of those is one of the most absorbing to have come along in quite some time.
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.