Chopin: 24 Preludes, Op. 28

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LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: 24 Preludes, Op. 28
PERFORMER: Grigory Sokolov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-336 Reissue (2000)
With influences behind it stretching back to Bach and its own influence extending forward to Debussy and Scriabin, the world of Chopin’s set of 24 Preludes is full of nightmarish, violent poetry, aching tenderness, even a prescience of death. As one of Chopin’s most personal statements, it tends to elicit equally personal approaches from different pianists and this is certainly true if one compares this fine account from Grigory Sokolov with the equally striking yet very different interpretation by Maria João Pires. Both are great artists and it is pointless to select one definitively above the other; which you will enjoy more depends entirely on your own taste. At the risk of imitating astrological language, it feels as if Sokolov’s rendering is dominated by water and earth while Pires’s is all fire and air. Her First Prelude suggests the dangerous early flickering of flames while Sokolov’s, by contrast, melts into a languid, liquid passion; Pires’s F sharp minor Prelude is driven and tumultuous while Sokolov’s evokes a doom-laden anguish. Pires excels in nervous, athletic, elemental energy; Sokolov ‘speaks’ his musical lines like an actor, aware of the resonance of stillness, darkness and deathly silence behind the notes. On a more pragmatic level, if you buy Pires’s recording you also get the Second Piano Concerto. Sokolov’s disc offers the Preludes alone; perhaps it’s not surprising that the box does not state the disc’s total time. This CD is also part of Opus 111’s rather extraordinary multi-artist, nine-disc Chopin series, released last year. Jessica Duchen