Chopin: 4 Scherzos; 4 Ballades

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: 4 Scherzos; 4 Ballades
PERFORMER: Cyril Huvé (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 7 54480 2 DDD
Recitals on Chopin’s own pianos have been special attractions for years, but recordings on instruments of his day are still rare. Last year Nimbus released a less than satisfactory CD of Chopin’s

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E minor Concerto played by Christopher Kite on a 1848 Broadwood with the Hanover Band. In this new recording,Cyril Huvé plays the Ballades and Scherzos on two French pianos which are even earlier: a Pleyel of 1828, exactly like those Chopin used, and a slightly more mellow, delicate Erard of 1838 which, according to Huvé, Chopin himself chose for a pupil.

Huvé plays with scrupulous taste and sensitivity, but the instruments impose more modest expressive margins than we have grown used to – at least from the most imaginative pianists of today. The ranges of volume and of tonal colour are smaller, the touch much more difficult to control than on a modern piano. All the same, both instruments cope adequately with the music even if they sound rather like honky-tonks.

The contrast with Nikolai Petrov, playing a modern piano, would be greater if Petrov used more of its resources. He is a superbly efficient pianist with a touch as brilliant and also as cold as a diamond. His interpretations, excepting very occasional rhythmic quirks, are straightforward, and in the Scherzos his attack and dexterity are sometimes exciting.

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But compared with Nikolai Demidenko’s recent disc of the Scherzos on Hyperion, Petrov’s version is unimaginative, and in the Ballades he is altogether surpassed by Deutsche Grammophon’s Andrei Gavrilov, who not only discovers all kindsof subtle shades of expressionbut also communicates much greater warmth. Adrian Jack