Polonaise: almost always, as soon as the word is uttered, it conjures up the name of Frédéric Chopin. And what could be more natural with a creative genius who was constantly attracted to the genre? His first work, published in Warsaw, was entitled `Polonaise for pianoforte dedicated to her Excellency the Countess Victoire Skarbek by Friderik Chopin, aged eight years'; and right up to the concluding Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op.61, fourteen other similar compositions had punctuated the all-too-brief career of the Polish maestro.
Frédéric Chopin's music is closely associated with the piano and as a matter of fact most of his music is written for this instrument. French harpist Coline-Marie Orliac did not want to miss playing Chopin?s inspiring music and took the audacious task to transcribe it for harp. Among Chopin's signature works is her arrangement of the Ballade op. 23 No. 1, displaying to the listener her breathtaking virtuosity while always adding a fresh and more transparent sound to Chopin's music.
Like other titles in this substantial Decca series, Ultimate Chopin is a box set devoted to recordings drawn from the label's prestigious backlist, designed to give beginners and casual listeners a well-rounded introduction to this Romantic master of piano music. The affordable package of five CDs includes Chopin's two concertos for piano and orchestra, as well as his solo keyboard works, such as the nocturnes, ballades, preludes, impromptus, and waltzes.
For while it would be idle to pretend that this 70-year-old virtuoso, struck down at the height of his career with psoriatic arthritis, still commands the velocity and reflex of his earlier years, his later Chopin and Liszt are a tribute to a devotion and commitment gloriously enriched by experience. The First Impromptu is piquantly voiced and phrased while the C sharp minor Etude, Op. 25 No. 7, could hardly be more hauntingly confided, more ‘blue’ or inturned. How you miss the repeat in the C sharp minor Mazurka, Op. 50 No. 3 (not Op. 15, as the jewel-case claims), given such cloudy introspection and if there are moments when you recall how Rubinstein – forever Chopin’s most aristocratic spokesman – can convey a world of feeling in a scarcely perceptible gesture, Janis’s brooding intensity represents a wholly personal, only occasionally overbearing, alternative; an entirely different point of view. Time and again he tells us that there are higher goods than surface polish or slickness and in the valedictory F minor Mazurka, Op. 68 No. 4 he conveys a dark night of the soul indeed, an emotion almost too desolating for public utterance… Janis is no less remarkable in Liszt, whether in the brief but intriguing Sans mesure (a first performance and recording), in a Sonetto 104 del Petrarca as tear-laden as any on record and in a final Liebestod of an exhausting ardour and focus.
Tatiana Shebanova, who also features in the Fryderyk Chopin Institute’s on-going Real Chopin series (see review special, p83), gets her own complete, modern instrument (as opposed to Real Chopin’s historic instruments) cycle on the Polish label Dux. Arranged in opus order, it presents a satisfying survey of Chopin’s development, and it spares the listener from (for example) a lack of variety in the usual hour-long sequence of waltzes.
Esteemed for almost 60 years as one of the greatest Chopin interpreters, Maurizio Pollini confirms his preeminence with this 2017 release on Deutsche Grammophon, and offers his first all-Chopin disc since 2012. Chopin's late works were composed between 1845 and 1849, and include the Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60, the 3 Mazurkas, Op. 59, the Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major, Op. 61, the 2 Nocturnes, Op. 62, the 3 Mazurkas, Op. 63, the 3 Waltzes, Op. 64, and the Mazurka in F minor, Op. Posth. 68, No. 4; they are notable for their harmonic richness and freedom of melodic embellishment, characteristics that made them especially influential among his Romantic contemporaries. Pollini's fluid phrasing and control of expression and dynamics have always given his performances sophistication and a feeling of balance, though these are engaging renditions that are far from cerebral or clinical, claims that critics have sometimes laid at Pollini's door. Yet listeners can hear for themselves how polished and deeply felt these performances are, and appreciate the artistic wholeness of Pollini's conceptions, from the elegance of the "Minute" Waltz to the sublime melancholy of the posthumous Mazurka in F minor. Highly recommended for fans of great piano music.
"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."