Chopin: find works

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Opus 111
ALBUM TITLE: The Opus 111 Chopin Experience, Vols 1-10
WORKS: find works
PERFORMER: Janusz Olejniczak, Grigory Sokolov, Leszek Mozdzer (piano), etc
CATALOGUE NO: see review for individual numbers
Among the many Chopin celebrations of 1999, this set is one of the most unusual. Chopin is explored from almost every recordable angle: his roots in Polish folk music, reconstructions of his concerts, his letters to and from George Sand and jazz versions of familiar pieces. And there’s straightforward piano music, too. Such is the set’s diversity that it’s unlikely that anyone will like everything, but everyone should find something to enjoy.

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First, traditional Polish dances are played by Zespol Polski, who intersperse arrangements of Chopin’s own Polish dances with the genuine articles, hammered home with the irrepressible vitality of a village fête (OPS 2006). All piano students struggling with the notoriously elusive mazurka rhythm should hear this. Next, the discs devoted to the letters between Chopin and Sand (OPS 2011) and to a ‘voyage around Chopin’ (OPS 2015) quoting correspondence, extracts of reviews etc, perhaps questionably superimpose spoken text over or between music duplicated from the other discs. Fashion designer Sonia Rykiel is a rather original choice for the voice of George Sand.

Grigory Sokolov, his playing full-toned and spacious, features in ‘France’ (OPS 2009), presenting the Études Op. 25 as true slivers of poetry, although his tempi are occasionally a little ponderous in the Preludes. In ‘Poland’ (OPS 2007), the Polonaises and Mazurkas are performed by the Polish pianist Janusz Olejniczak, whose playing is a fabulous discovery, replete with rhythmic vigour, poetry, lightness, intelligence and wit.

The period instrument performances are the set’s low point – especially the recital on an 1831 Pleyel (OPS 2010), which makes painful listening, through no fault of Olejniczak, here doing his best under the circumstances. The poor old thing sounds as if it’s falling apart. ‘Chopin’s music demands the right piano,’ blusters the booklet writer. Too bloody right… And ‘The Warsaw Concert’ (OPS 2008) contains some music by Chopin’s Polish peers Kurpin´ski, Elsner and Paer – some of which would have been best left in the library.

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As for the jazz discs, from pianists Leszek Mozdzer and Andrzej Jagoszinski and friends (OPS 2013 & 2014), you’ll either love them or hate them, and I love them, both for their imaginative freshness and for their tribute to Chopin’s genius, which can emerge from any reinterpretation wholly intact. The radically inventive Mozdzer especially convinces me that if Chopin were alive today, this is what he might be playing. JD