"Arrau's Chopin – now available in a six-CD box (Philips 432 303-2) as part of Philips's Arrau Edition – is as far from moonstruck "sentimentality" as any Chopin ever was. But no performance of the Preludes is more sentimental, in Schiller's sense, than the version Arrau recorded for Philips in 1973. Its premise – that the cycle is a grand tragedy, the darkest thing Chopin wrote – is unmistakable. Even the prefatory C-major Prelude heaves with orgasmic rubatos – more weight, it seems, than the music can possibly bear. And yet, as Arrau packs each small berth with a world of feeling, the weight grips and holds. At times, the sheer density of emotion can seem suffocatingly intense. The Prelude No. 22, a Stygian descent, is surely Hades; the plunging scales of No. 24 rip the thread of life."
It was an eminently sensible decision to couple Zimerman's previously separate Chopin concertos on a single CD. The Ax/Ormandy/RCA disc is the only rival as a coupling, so let me say at once that in different moods I would be equally happy with either.
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.