Chopin: Etudes, Opp. 10 & 25; Trois nouvelles etudes

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Arabesque
WORKS: Etudes, Opp. 10 & 25; Trois nouvelles etudes
PERFORMER: Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Z 6718
Garrick Ohlsson won the Warsaw Chopin Piano Competition way back in 1970, and still sounds as if he’s trying to prove his worth. While that may be good, I wish he could sometimes relax. Why, for instance, does he push the gentle A flat posthumous study so hard? Compare his strangely forced ‘interpretation’ with the effortless charm of the late Shura Cherkassky’s recording from the Fifties, recently reissued on Philips’s Great Pianists of the 20th Century. Nor could Ohlsson ever hope to match Martha Argerichs extraordinary — and quite natural — brilliance in the very first study of Op. 10. He is fast and strong, technically impressive, but no more.

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Still, Ohlsson offers considerable qualities of his own. In Op. 10, he is just about unsurpassed in the gruelling A minor study, and he flutters beautifully in the seventh study, which he takes really fast. If anything, he is even better in Op. 25, controlled and disciplined, never indulging in the sort of rhythmic licence that disguises technical shortcomings. He has a dark side, too, revealed in Op. 10/6 and Op. 25/7.

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As on Ohlsson’s nine previous Chopin discs, the piano is a Bösendorfer, recorded with a foggy quality because of added reverberation, which is a pity. But the disc is still very competitive. There are some wonderful things on a disc of all 27 F_tudes by Yuki Matsuzawa on Novalis, and if you only want the 24 of Opp. 10 and 25, the first of Ashkenazy’s recordings on Melodiya, Pollini’s on DG, Ian Hobson’s on CFP, and Gavrilov’s on EMI are all strong. But the most reliable complete recording is Louis Lortie’s on Chandos. Adrian Jack