WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 3; Ballade No. 1; Ballade No. 2; Ballade No. 3; Ballade No. 4; Etudes, Opp. 10 & 25; Preludes, Op. 28; Mazurkas
PERFORMER: Vlado Perlemuter (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 1764 ADD/DDD
The indomitable Vlado Perlemuter is one of those pianists whose renown has grown with his age. Today he is well into his nineties, although he retired officially only a few years ago, and the recordings in this set were made between 1974 and 1992, beginning when the pianist was already seventy years old. Part of the reverence with which Perlemuter is regarded comes from the fact that he studied all Ravel’s piano music with the composer: he was awarded a Premier Prix at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 15, performing music by Faur6 with the composer as chairman of the jury. More relevant to this Chopin set is that one of his principal teachers was Alfred Cortot, whose performances of Chopin were themselves legendary.
The most obvious musical similarity Perlemuter has to Cortot is his sound quality, which is exceptionally luminous, songful and pure. He never produces a sound that is ugly or harsh, nor is there any hint of exhibitionism. Perlemuter’s artistry has nothing to do with ego and everything to do with fidelity to the composer. His use of rubato is always careful and never gratuitous. Voicing is superb: as, for instance, the Funeral March movement of the Second Sonata, the central section of the Polonaise-Fantasie and several of the Op. 28 Preludes. He is not always the most imaginative musician, nor does he possess Rubinstein’s seductive charm, but he performs with a conviction and grand scale of conception which is entirely individual.
The set is not without its weaknesses. It’s hard not to wish that Nimbus had interested itself in Perlemuter’s Chopin some years earlier. There are moments of exceptional technical difficulty where Perlemuter is clearly struggling and wrong notes abound – one questions the policy of minimal editing in a section like the last part of the Fourth Ballade or the Barcarolle, where some of these are seriously intrusive. Most of the faster Etudes sound laboured – although Perlemuter’s rendering of the ‘Harp’ Etude, Op. 25/1, is very beautiful, possessing a simple yet visionary other-worldliness. Occasionally there is a slight brusqueness which interferes with Perlemuter’s otherwise exemplary nobility.
Certain pieces here, though, can be counted among the finest of Chopin interpretations. The sonatas are superb, if a little slow in the more difficult passages -1 particularly loved the glowing legato and sensitive phrasing in the second subject of the B minor Sonata’s first movement. Many of the Preludes and Nocturnes are simply exquisite, and the Polonaise-Fantasie is a towering, powerful interpretation lit up from within by Perlemuter’s tone. Nimbus has captured this magical tone quality faithfully and should be heartily thanked for it.
Anyone looking for a set of Chopin’s complete piano music should note that this is not one – it is highly selective – but no less rewarding for that. Jessica Duchen