CHOPIN Complete Nocturnes (Fliter)
Pianists who record Chopin’s Nocturnes usually sequence the works by opus number. Ingrid Fliter differs from most by devising a running order full of intriguing juxtapositions, as did Earl Wild. Such programming savvy makes sense if you plan on listening to all of the Nocturnes in one sitting.
For example, the B major Nocturne, Op 32 No 1, nonchalantly slips right into Op 9 No 3 in the same key. One doesn’t have to study music theory to aurally sense the subtle unity of key relationships between disc 1’s last four selections (C minor, A flat, B and E minor). And two Nocturnes in the same key back-to-back make a striking pair, as the grace and simplicity of the E flat Op 9 No 2 give way to the polyphonic intensity of the E flat Op 55 No 2.
There’s no questioning Fliter’s innate affinity for Chopin, as numerous past recordings prove. Think of her freshly minted EMI B minor Sonata and cycle of Waltzes, her imaginative Mazurka-playing, and her exquisitely sculpted runs and roulades in both concertos. By contrast, Fliter’s Chopin Preludes, Op 28, for me at least, blurred the lines between inspiration and mannerism, and so do stretches of her new Nocturne cycle.
While she is bent on moving Op 15 No 2’s phrases over the bar lines, there’s no perceptible harmonic or structural basis to her speedings-up and slowings-down, not to mention her capricious dynamics. She underlines the D flat Op 27 No 2’s bel canto-inspired details at the expense of the music’s sense of repose and cantabile eloquence, whereas Maria João Pires’s shimmering long lines create far more mobility at an altogether slower tempo. Indeed, Fliter’s live 2003 Concertgebouw traversal (VAI) was far more vibrant, direct and all of a piece.
Fliter takes an eternity over Op 32 No 2’s opening two Lento measures, while her rhythmic fussing in the central episode dissipates the music’s build and ultimately undermines the impact and inevitability of the Appassionato climax that an even more rhetorical artist like Claudio Arrau judges to shattering perfection. She also loses the momentum of the agitato pedal-point passage leading into Op 27 No 1’s con anima, which in turn loses its climactic aura on account of Fliter’s mincing ritenutos.
Paradoxically, Fliter realises her poetic potential most convincingly when she plays straight and doesn’t try so hard to interpret. Cases in point include her ethereal, almost offhand separation of melody and accompaniment in Op 48 No 2’s main section, the shapely introspection she brings to Op 37 No 1 and the gentle lilt in the posthumous C sharp minor’s central mazurka episode. On the whole, Fliter’s conceptions stand at different stages of ripening, as opposed to the divergent yet fully formed vantage points characterising the classic Arrau, Rubinstein, Pires and Moravec Nocturne cycles.