Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor; Fantasia on Polish Airs

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WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor; Fantasia on Polish Airs
PERFORMER: Eldar Nebolsin (piano); Warsaw PO/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos NBD 0011 (Blu-ray audio 5.0 surround)

Following the exemplary lead of the Norwegian 2L label, Naxos did not so much dip a toe as dive headlong into audio-only Blu-ray with the truly ground-breaking Virtual Haydn set. Now come four more discs, suggesting that Naxos’s adoption of audio only Blu-ray is no flash in the pan.
Unlike the Virtual Haydn, these discs broadly retain the programme length of a CD, even though far more could be fitted onto a Blu-ray disc. Only the pairing of Dvoπák’s Sixth and Ninth Symphonies breaks the 80-minute barrier and then only by less than ten minutes. It is frustrating that the fillers from the CDs of the Dvorák Symphonies have been omitted here.
With that gripe out of the way, it is possible to celebrate the considerable riches of these discs. The jewel in the crown of Marin Alsop’s survey of Dvoπák’s later symphonies is the Ninth. This performance really sits among the best in an incredibly crowded field, sounding as fresh as when Dvorák put pen to paper. Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are almost as impressive in the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, despite these being very different beasts. No detail appears to be overlooked.If Alsop’s interpretation of the Sixth Symphony does not quite reach these exalted heights, it is still characterised by exceptionally fine playing from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
On CD, the recording is remarkably good, but Blu-ray adds so much more, even in stereo. There is a natural quality to the sound that becomes most apparent when returning to the flat artificiality of the CD version. For the Chopin discs, the piano is just as much to the fore on Blu-ray as on CD, yet sounds even more crystalline.
The two Chopin discs are also impressive, with Eldar Nebolsin comfortably among the finest interpreters of his generation. The Concerto No. 1 can hold its head up alongside almost any performance, the Second is occasionally a touch more workmanlike, but both discs score strongly for their inclusion of Chopin’s relatively rare other works played with such relish. Christopher Dingle