Chopin: Ballade in G minor, Op. 23; Ballade in F minor, Op. 52; Nocturne in E flat, Op. 9/2; Nocturne in F sharp, Op. 15/2

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Crystonyx
WORKS: Ballade in G minor, Op. 23; Ballade in F minor, Op. 52; Nocturne in E flat, Op. 9/2; Nocturne in F sharp, Op. 15/2
PERFORMER: Robert DeGaetano (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 1003
These are both recital discs of popular favourites, designed to be listened to in a single sitting. Robert DeGaetano acknowledges a host of distinguished teachers, but though his performances are sound, he doesn’t illuminate the music. Technically, he is not always quite secure – the fast sections of Chopin’s First Scherzo are not note-perfect, and the Revolutionary Study is a bit of a struggle. Yet there are redeeming moments, and the difficult final section of the Fourth Ballade is successfully brought off,

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in being allowed time for its richly sonorous details to register. The Nocturnes are played very slowly and straight – in a kind of coma. The ecstatic lyricism of the Fantasy Impromptu is completely missing.

The Liszt disc is still weaker. The Mephisto Waltz lacks wild intensity, the Rhapsody is unexciting, and in La campanella DeGaetano seems almost to be winding down. Nor is he up to all the technical demands of the Sonata, and he loses essential definition of certain motifs in the most strenuous sections.

If you like a rather low-profile approach to Chopin (which is a polite way of describing DeGaetano’s playing), Valerie Tryon’s recording of the Ballades is a classic but badly recorded. Emanuel Ax, also superb, has only slightly better sound quality. Most people will want a more vivid recording and the glamour of Demidenko, Gavrilov, Kissin or Zimerman. Pletnev’s live recording of the Scherzos is stunning.

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Peter Donohoe’s recording of the Liszt Sonata ought to be reissued, but there’s Curzon’s profound version of 1963, and much more recent, the wise and satisfying one by Emanuel Ax. Adrian Jack