CHOPIN Piano Concertos 1 & 2 (version for one piano) (Dina Yoffe)
For anyone who may have missed it, Poland is assuming a leadership position in the use of historical instruments by pianists. In addition to a number of interesting recordings made over the past decade or so, just this September the Fryderyk Chopin Institute mounted the First International Chopin Competition on period instruments, with subsequent competitions slated to occur every five years. Contestants were offered a choice of six antique pianos: three Érards, two Pleyels and a Broadwood.
One recent fruit of this salutary initiative is a recording of the solo versions of both Chopin concertos by Dina Yoffe, using an 1848 Pleyel for the E minor Concerto and an 1838 Érard for the F minor. A native of Riga and graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, Yoffe is artistic director of the Malaga summer festival in Spain and teaches at the Hamburg Conservatory. If any justification were needed for this project it would be that the full orchestral scores for both Chopin concertos weren’t collated and published until the 1860s. The versions heard here, or ones accompanied by string quartet or quintet, were the way these pieces were most frequently experienced during Chopin’s lifetime.
Yoffe’s performances achieve a genuine sweep, as well as a personal stamp, not always encountered in performances of the concertos with orchestra. Always poised and rhythmical, Yoffe’s rubato is chaste and effective. The orchestral tuttis are seamlessly integrated and receive the same imagination and fastidious attention to detail as is lavished on the solo part. For those who consider the Larghetto of the F minor Concerto the crux of Chopin’s concertante art, Yoffe’s reading is direct, heartfelt and exquisitely atmospheric.
My only reservation about Yoffe’s interpretative choices occurs in the Rondo of the E minor Concerto. Surely it would have made more sense, in the kujawiak passages where the solo part sings the melody in octaves at 3'10"ff and 8'18"ff, to have dropped the left-hand doubling and maintain instead some element of the delicate string accompaniment, rather than leaving the tune unsupported by the harmonies for 36 bars.
That quibble aside, Yoffe plays these instruments as though she’s known them since childhood. Her intelligent and sensitive performances will be a welcome addition to any Chopin library.