CHOPIN Nocturnes – Pires
Those of us fortunate enough to have attended Maria Joao Pires’s Wigmore Hall recital earlier this year were given a hint of the recorded greatness to come when she ended her programme with a memorable selection of Chopin
More intimately, in Op. 15 No. 3 (where the music’s wavering sense of irresolution led to the sobriquet ‘the Hamlet Nocturne’) Pires makes you hang on to every note in the coda’s curious, echoing chimes, and in the dolcissimo conclusion to No. 8 (Op. 27 No. 2) there is an unforgettable sense of ‘all passion spent’, of gradually ebbing emotion. Not surprisingly, given her general approach, Pires is drawn to No. 9 (Op. 32 No. 1), where an outwardly meek and Field-like demeanour is constantly menaced and thwarted, while in No. 13 in C minor, one of Chopin’s most sombre masterpieces, her sense of strength in adversity is overwhelming. Her emotional force in the concluding doppio movimento will surely bring tears to the eyes of even the hardiest, most seasoned listener. And since she is no less successful in the following, wistful F sharp minor Nocturne (always among Chopin’s favourites) and in the rich and fragrant pastures of Op. 62 Nos. 1 and 2, I can safely say that you will look far and wide for performances of greater poetic command and authority.
Just as Krystian Zimerman so startlingly re-evaluated the Debussy Preludes (DG, 3/94), more than proving that there is life after Gieseking, so Pires with her burning clarity has reinforced our sense of Chopin’s stature, created a new range of possibilities (showing us that there is life after Rubinstein). Naturally, Rubinstein’s legendary cycles possess a graciousness, an ease and elegance reflecting, perhaps, a long-vanished belle epoque. Yet moving ahead, as we all must, I have no hesitation in declaring Maria Joao Pires – a pianist without a trace of narcissism – among the most eloquent master-musicians of our time.'