Chopin: Piano Works

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Louis Lortie: Chopin
WORKS: Nocturne, Op. 27 No. 1; Impromptu, Op. 66; Nocturne, Op. 32 No. 2; Impromptu, Op. 29; Nocturne, Op. 9 No. 3; Sonata No. 3 Op. 58
PERFORMER: Louis Lortie (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10813

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Since his death, Chopin has appeared in many guises. For much of the 19th century (even during the 20th) it was fashionable to play him like John Field, with polished, sentimental and insipid results. By the mid-20th century, he had become a kind of Polish Beethoven: big, bold, elemental, innovative, complex and prophetic of Wagner, Debussy and even Schoenberg.

More recently, the lyrical poet has been returning, but now he’s Shakespearean, not Fieldian – stylish, unprotestingly virile and universal. Louis Lortie, from the beginning of his career, has exemplified this last, modern incarnation. The first prerequisite of great Chopin playing is arguably beauty of tone, as well as refinement and variety. Lortie has all this, and more, in spades (listen, for example, to the bewitching opening of the first of his chosen Nocturnes). Equally important is suppleness of inflection (whether in slow tempos, as in the Nocturnes, or fast, as in the bubbling joie de vivre of the A flat Impromptu or the scherzo of the B minor Sonata).

Lortie is a model Chopinist: eloquent but never sentimental, elegant without ever sounding effete, dramatic but never exaggerated, harmonically luminous, structurally immaculate – and surprising. Some, however, may feel that the pedal is too pervasive, jeopardising Chopin’s polyphonic web. Others that intensity sometimes yields too much to art. Few, though, would dispute that this is Chopin playing of an exceptionally high order. No artist pleases everyone (nor should any want to try).

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Jeremy Siepmann