ALBUM TITLE: Complete Edition
PERFORMER: Daniel Barenboim, Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Claudio Arrau (piano), etc
CATALOGUE NO: 463 047-2 ADD/DDD Reissue
Chopin has never had it so good, CD-wise. The 150th anniversary of his untimely death at 39 has prompted an embarrassment of riches, none richer than this first-ever complete edition of his works. Mind you, when the line-up of performers includes Argerich, Arrau, Ashkenazy, Barenboim, the Beaux Arts Trio, Pollini, Rostropovich, Vásáry and Zimerman, that’s no great trick. Some of these performances are already classics (Argerich’s stunning account of the Preludes, Zimerman’s equally flooring performance of the Ballades and the Fantasia in F minor for starters), and others deserve to be (Barenboim’s noble, aristocratic, elegant and unmannered recording of the complete Nocturnes shows him at his finest, and Pollini’s playing of the great Polonaises surpasses, in my view, his more famous traversal of the Études, being substantially more supple of line and more resourceful in coloration).
Nor do some of the less widely celebrated players fall short of these exacting standards. Jean-Marc Luisada gives a highly distinguished, polished and effortlessly sophisticated account of the Waltzes and Mazurkas – rhythmically supple and well-sprung, tonally varied, and richly (though never eccentrically) characterised. Much of the lesser-known repertoire is entrusted to Anatol Ugorski, who generally makes an impressive job of it, full of elegance, tonal variety and buoyant phrasing. And the chamber music fares outstandingly well, as you might imagine, with Rostropovich, the Beaux Arts Trio and Argerich all in great form.
That said, there are some disappointments, too. Lilya Zilberstein is a generally superior pianist-musician, but I find it hard to enjoy her playing of several lesser-known (but not necessarily lesser) works here. Her sound is often harder than Chopin’s iridescent tonal palette will bear, and her rhythmic vocabulary is correspondingly limited. And Stanislav Bunin’s playing of the Impromptus is also hard-edged tonally, and too mannered by half.
My biggest disappointment, however, is Elzbieta Szmytka in the 17 songs, where her considerable stylistic virtues are too often sabotaged by an intonation which is just that tiny bit off, and for me the degree of vibrato is positively distracting. But these things are notoriously subjective. In the last analysis, this set is nothing less than an artistic goldmine. JS