Chopin: Piano Sonata in B minor, Op. 58; 12 Études, Op. 25; Trois nouvelles études

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B minor, Op. 58; 12 Études, Op. 25; Trois nouvelles études
PERFORMER: Nelson Freire (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 470 288-2
With his first recording for Decca, Nelson Freire, once Martha Argerich’s duo partner, certainly tells it like it is. Seldom has Chopin’s B minor Sonata seemed so compact, with swift tempi throughout, including a matter-of-fact scherzo and a slow movement which almost seems perfunctory. The best-played movement is the last, in which Freire’s glittering right-hand fingerwork and precise sense of orchestration in changes of texture make for a satisfying account. Yet not a deeply moving one, like Nikolai Demidenko’s. Demidenko really reaches for the stars and his exploration of the slow movement at a very slow tempo is justified by his complete faith in the music. He also has a compelling sense of epic narrative which Freire almost completely lacks.

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Demidenko is also my chosen comparison for the Fourth Ballade, on the same CD as the Sonata, since he is one of the very few pianists who successfully creates a single line running throughout the piece. Bogányi’s recording here is technically accomplished, yet despite his good sense about tempi, his sensitivity to ebb and flow, he still doesn’t succeed in building up more than a succession of episodes because, with his fussy, self-conscious rubato, he is thinking too much of the moment.

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There’s a certain over-eagerness to impress, too, in his recording of the second set of Études. Freire, on the other hand, takes a superlative technique for granted. Nor is Freire simply a technical paragon here, for in the C sharp minor Study he creates real poetry, with an almost erotic charge. He can be delicate and charming, too, as in the middle section of the octave study, and he brings a fiery attack as well as superbly clear articulation to the ‘Winter Wind’ Study. It’s also good to have the lovely three Nouvelles études, which are subtly, sensitively treated, even if the A flat major piece is rather fast. Adrian Jack