Chopin

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2; Impromptu No. 3; Ballade No. 4; Berceuse, Op. 57; Three Mazurkas, Op. 50; Polonaise héroïque
PERFORMER: Nelson Freire (piano); Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/Lionel Bringuier
CATALOGUE NO: 478 5332

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‘A musician’s musician.’ ‘A pianist’s pianist.’ High praise, seasoned with a flattering aura of erudition but often soured by an air of exclusivity: not a popular, not a ‘mere’ music-lover’s musician; not a people’s pianist. Nelson Freire is one of those great musicians who have largely bridged the gap, yet even he has never become what we inflatedly call a superstar. Tastes differ, of course, but it would be a rare connoisseur not to recognise a major master in the lyrical, rhythmically buoyant, spiritually abundant playing here of Chopin’s Third Impromptu. Freire’s sheer love of music, and of this music, is positively incandescent. On an altogether different scale, but at the same Olympian level, is his unfurling of the Ballade No. 4, whose thematic entanglements, intertwining moods and paradoxical combinations of the profound and the frivolous are bound together in a continuous, intensifying drama. Freire shames all those who claim that Chopin had no grasp of large-scale forms. Nor do many pianists exploit such a richly varied colouristic palette in the service of structural and emotional cohesion. This is playing of exceptional virility, entirely untainted by machismo posturing or narcissistic display. Chopin stands fully revealed as a giant.

The A flat Polonaise is equally epic in tone but here, as in the mazurkas and even in the generally splendid concerto, I feel a sometimes distracting, and surprising, want of dynamic range and rhythmic-cum-metric variety. In the miraculous and miniature Berceuse, however, Freire come close to perfection.

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Jeremy Siepmann