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Chopin: Piano Concertos (arr. chamber)

Kevin Kenner (piano); Apollon Musagete Quartett (NIFC)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Piano Concertos (chamber arr.)
Kevin Kenner (piano); Apollon Musagete Quartett
NIFC NIFCCD0220   76:34 mins

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Right from the start, Chopin’s two piano concertos were performed in intimate settings, and it’s well known that the composer himself played them in various chamber versions. No version in chamber form in Chopin’s own hand has come to light, but their publication during the 1830s saw them being issued not only with orchestral parts but as solo works and with quintet accompaniments. Though they have been recorded before in chamber form, this outstanding new release with the pianist Kevin Kenner features his own edition (made in collaboration with Krzysztof Dombek and published by PWM). In keeping with 19th-century practice, the piano reinforces what would have been orchestral tuttis. Kenner is joined by the Apollon Musagète Quartett and Sławomir Rozlach (double bass) in performances of more spontaneity than a conductor and orchestra would normally allow.

The opening of the F minor Concerto sets the tone with transparency and lightness. Ever since winning the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1990, Kenner has stood out as an elegant Chopin player, and he captures the yearning of the opening movement as well as its musical urgency and momentum. The slow movement has deep lyrical beauty, and the American pianist is especially poised in the finale. A sense of freshness is all gain in the E minor Concerto, striving and serious but also full of unrestrained brilliance.

Intimacy is the key to this music, yet too many performances with orchestra sound overblown: once you’ve heard this, you may well prefer to think of these masterpieces as chamber music.

Read more of our reviews of the latest Chopin recordings here

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John Allison