Chopin: 4 Ballades; Barcarolle; Fantaisie; Berceuse

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WORKS: 4 Ballades; Barcarolle; Fantaisie; Berceuse
PERFORMER: Alexei Lubimov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 2292-45990-2 DDD
Before Steinway grand pianos existed, two of the leading makes were Erard and Pleyel – both French. Chopin liked them for different reasons. Playing an Erard from 1837, the Russian-born pianist Alexei Lubimov finds more power than expected in the stormiest passages of the Ballades, but it’s in the mesmerising lull of the Berceuse that the instrument really comes into its own. Never has that left-hand accompaniment sounded quite so haunting, nor the right hand so silvery: these seem like the music’s authentic qualities, and there is no sense of struggle against a mechanical opponent. That’s not entirely the case in the rest of this selection of masterpieces. Played strongly, the Erard’s tone quality begins to quail and one suspects that its touch is uneven. Perhaps that’s why Lubimov aims for luscious rather than tidy textures and takes a good deal of artistic licence with rhythm. Adrian Jack