Chopin: Preludes, Op. 28; Mazurkas, Op. 41; Barcarolle, Op. 60

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Preludes, Op. 28; Mazurkas, Op. 41; Barcarolle, Op. 60
PERFORMER: Alain Planès (piano)
Tastes differ, never more so than in music. For many people, both eminent and obscure, Alain Planès is a great, even a very great pianist. And so he may be, but I have to say, reluctantly, that I can’t discern it here. For a start, I find the overall tone inappropriately and disagreeably clangorous, the dynamic range too narrow (particularly at the soft end of the spectrum), and the melodic inflection disturbingly angular. More often than not (and far removed from the long-spun, vocal bel canto so beloved of Chopin), tensions are unresolved, so that most phrases end with a ‘consonant’ rather than an eliding ‘vowel’: thus ‘tee-tee tah’ rather than ‘tee teeya’. The result is that we often hear the foreground note-to-note rhythm at the expense of the underlying variety (‘short-short-short’ rather than the more elegant ‘short lo-ong’). And the left hand is frequently reduced to the status of mere accompanist, even when it plays a dominating, obsessive and highly characterised role, as in the relentless turbulence of Prelude No. 16.


Elegance, by contrast, is abundantly evident throughout Sokolov’s account of the Preludes. The pianism is 18-carat, at least, the characterisation extreme, and the general approach so super-Romantic that Chopin would doubtless writhe in agony if he heard it. The rhythm is extravagantly elastic (flying in the face of Chopin’s own carefully worded account of his performing ideal, which is almost Mozartianly Classical in its implied restraint), and the colouristic palette is lavish. Indeed the performance throughout is almost the exact opposite of Planès’s. The sound, even at its loudest, is never strident, tensions are beautifully, creamily and variously resolved, and the phrasing and articulation are as seamless as they come. The playing is continually involving and provocative, but there sometimes seems to be as much in it of Sokolov as of Chopin. Jeremy Siepmann