WORKS: Nocturnes (complete)
PERFORMER: Elisabeth Leonskaya (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-72297-2 DDD
You are unlikely to listen to all the Chopin Nocturnes in order of opus number at one sitting, but just in case you are captivated, as I was, by the undemonstrative poetry of Elisabeth Leonskaya’s readings, keep a couple of hours spare. Her playing creeps up on the listener, welcoming you in before making greater intellectual and emotional demands. While Leonskaya could not be described as the most searching of Chopin interpreters, at least she does not mug the composer’s muse into submission. There is a care over detail which repays attentive listening: she never allows left-hand figures to go stale and where they take on more than an accompanimental role, they are given due weight.
There is also fire as well as delicacy in her playing: try, for instance, the con fuoco middle section of No. 4 (Op.15/1), or the heavenstorming octave writing in No. 13 (Op.48/1). But in general, these interpretations are valuable for their understatement. In returning the Nocturnes to a domestic scale of expectation, Leonskaya provides an ideal introduction to these works and one to which the listener may safely come back. The main problem with the set is the sound of the piano. The tone is frequently harsh above the staff and the sound congested. Greater distance and a slightly more resonant acoustic would have helped. Jan Smaczny