Chopin’s 200th birthday year: but what to hear, and where?

DistlerFri 19th February 2010

Jed Distler offers some advice

It’s Chopin’s 200th birthday year, and no self-respecting pianist would think of not participating. How, where and when, though? That’s where my pianist/educator friend Lisa Yui steps in with her valuable The Lives of the Piano concerts at the Manhattan School of Music. Lisa has a knack for deciding which pieces go where, and who should play them, while introducing the music elegantly and succinctly. So if you’re around Sunday February 21st, stop in between 2PM and 6PM at the Manhattan School’s Greenfield Hall. Admission is free, and some wonderful music making is in store.

Lisa herself kicks things off with the Third Ballade, followed by the noted pianist/writer/scholar Joseph Smith, who’ll play John Field’s Fourth Nocturne alongside Chopin’s Op 9 No 2 Nocturne (the latter with authentic ornaments). Mijung Lee will offer another fascinating juxtaposition: the A-flat Op 25 No 1 “Aeolian Harp” Etude paired with no less than two Leopold Godowsky arrangements of the same work.

Later on in the programme, large forms dominate, starring the F Minor Fantasy plus the Second and Third Sonatas. Knowing Mirian Conti’s authority and panache in Latin American repertoire, I wouldn’t be surprised if her Mazurka segment swing like mad, or if the virile poetry of Frank Levy’s Brahms and Schubert recordings for the Palexa label will inform his Chopin Fantasie-Impromptu and D-flat Nocturne Op 27 No 2. California readers can hear Levy a week later at his Stanford University recital debut in music by Schubert and Liszt.

The other day, someone asked me what my favourite Chopin recordings were, and I said, “how much time do you have for me to answer that question?” The truth is that there are way too many to keep track of. I like to load Chopin performances into Itunes, press random play, and be surprised by performances I hadn’t thought about in years (I try not to identify the pianist until after I listen).

Yes, Ignaz Freidman’s Mazurkas are iconic, but who talks about Emanuel Ax’s like-minded audacity and timing, albeit without amplifying the text? Or the dash and wit of Idil Biret’s Tarantella? Who played that particularly ravishing, tonally silken Berceuse, helped by gorgeous sonics? None other than Wilhelm Kempff, for German Radio in 1945. Who knew? Or that svelte, seductive A-flat Impromptu with subtle changes in voicing? Would you believe Peter Serkin for RCA Victor?

Much as I’ve always loved Horowitz’s galvanizing Introduction and Rondo in E-flat Op 16, another performance boasted different, equally convincing details, just as much virtuosic flair, and riveted my attention from the first note to the last. The pianist? Vladimir Ashkenazy, from his complete Chopin cycle, newly reissued by Decca. Moral of story: collections are for listening!

Distler

Composer, pianist, concert presenter and Gramophone contributor Jed Distler looks back, present and forward about the piano in our lives, and the lives of the piano.

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2018