The nocturne has a vocal origin, and Chopin wrote this set to encourage his pupils to develop a smooth, singing tone. Some of them even include recitative, notably the closing bars of Op. 32/1. He held strong views about the performance of his music, and the directions he left in his manuscripts are so specific that it’s astonishing how far modern performance practice has departed from his stated intentions. Most pianists over-dramatise his music, playing it too loudly and too fast, with scant attention to phrasing and dynamics and with inappropriate pedalling. Inaccuracies have even crept into some of the most readily available printed editions.
Chopin experts have long sought to remedy the situation and to recapture an authentic style of playing – among them Angela Lear, who includes four of the Nocturnes in the two volumes so far released of her ‘Original Chopin’ series (on APR). To play these alongside other performances, even by some of the most respected pianists, is a revelation.
Unlike Lear, Pires has clearly not gone back to the manuscripts. She has a tendency to take liberties with the dynamics, to distort phrases with fluctuating tempi, to mistake passages which should be played strictly in time for recitative, and generally to over-dramatise. It’s when you follow the performance with a reliable score that the unstylishness becomes manifest. She’s no worse than most, and a good deal better than some, and in the context of the sort of interpretation to which most people have grown accustomed, she is technically accomplished and produces some beautiful tone. If you purchase this set, buy the Angela Lear discs as well, and hear what Chopin really intended.