CHOPIN Nocturnes (Complete: Goerner)
It’s not surprising to find Nelson Goerner, a pianist renowned for his poetry, recording Chopin’s Nocturnes. Certainly, the impression left by this complete set is one of close personal engagement and a freedom that comes with long association with this music. He’s beautifully recorded too (in the Swiss venue of the Salle de Musique in La Chaux-de-Fonds), allowing a haloed sound but plenty of detail in it too.
Highlights are many: from his loving retelling of the famous D flat major, Op 27 No 2, to the simple charm with which he imbues the second of the Op 37 Nocturnes, conveying potently its mood of fragile happiness and colouring the lines with great finesse. The C minor, Op 48 No 1, unfolds with due gravitas, which contrasts tellingly with the heightened emotions of its inner section, and Goerner is a persuasive storyteller in the B major, Op 62 No 1, hinting at its enveloping sadness without becoming mired by it.
However, at times I found Goerner’s freedom could be a bit of a distraction and occasionally the sense of an underlying pulse gets lost in his rhapsodic interpretations. In the very first Nocturne, for instance, the passage before the return to the main idea (at 3'42") almost loses its way. Pires here manages to combine magically ethereal shadings with a greater sense of movement.
In the third Op 9 Nocturne Perlemuter sounds ageless (despite having recorded this in his 80th year) and almost jaunty alongside most others; it’s just a pity about the uningratiating Nimbus recording. While Goerner is undeniably alive to every nuance of this piece, dispatching its filigree with a quiet virtuosity, Pires finds a greater sense of sweep, of momentum, that is irresistible. And in Op 15 No 1 I wondered if Goerner was overpedalling – the textures become strangely muddied (listen to Cortot here – EMI), though perversely this is not an issue in the torrential onslaught of its middle section. Occasionally his tempos struck me as a little on the slow side, as witness Op 27 No 1, heartfelt though it undeniably is. Pires is only a degree faster but differentiates more clearly between melody and the churning accompaniment below it – though, compared to Lortie (Chandos, 6/14), Goerner is positively allegro.
These issues will come down to taste, of course, and Goerner ends on a high, shading the the Op posth C minor Nocturne with tremendous beauty and gravity.