Chopin: Nocturnes (complete)
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Nocturnes (complete)
PERFORMER: Brigitte Engerer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901430.31 DDD
Chopin’s 24 Preludes (one in each of the major and minor keys) present a kaleidoscopic succession of contrasting moods. Part of their challenge to the performer lies in their very brevity: the character and atmosphere of each piece have to be established from the first bar. In this, Ashkenazy is not always successful: some of the slower numbers (the famous A major, for instance) are sentimentalised, while the more dramatic pieces tend to be hammered out remorselessly. Ashkenazy sounds more at home in the nocturne-like slow movement of the B minor Sonata, but here the outer movements seem episodical and unshaped. Despite the undeniably high level of the pianism, these are rather literal performances, and add little to Ashkenazy’s previous Decca versions of this music. The recorded sound is somewhat unfocused.
There is more to enjoy in Brigitte Engerer’s unfailingly musical account of the complete Nocturnes. She is a poetic but unpretentious player, and she does not underplay the surprisingly agitated middle sections of some of these pieces either. Perhaps she is a little earthbound in the dreamlike F sharp major Op. 15/2; and the sudden menacing drama in the closing bars of the B major Op. 32/1 (one of Chopin’s most extraordinary flights of imagination) largely passes her by; but this is an impressive set. Misha Donat