WORKS: Andante spianato & Grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22; Ballade No. 1; Ballade No. 2; Ballade No. 3; Ballade No. 4; Bolero, Op. 19
PERFORMER: Wendy Chen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 19702 (distr. Allegra)
One often encounters the story of the over-hyped piano competition winner who is thrust into the musical arena with a handful of superlatives attached to their playing, only to see them fall away as quickly as they were elevated.
And so it comes as a refreshing change to hear a young pianist who displays a musicianship of integrity and finesse. Gold medallist at the 1997 Van Cliburn competition, Jon Nakamatsu presents an all-Chopin programme for his debut recording, a courageous step indeed. Fine recordings of this repertoire, especially the Mazurkas and Impromptus, abound, and yet Nakamatsu can hold his head high among tough competition.
His playing is ultra-refined, strong in characterisation, and with the ability to lift the music off the ground with a beautifully judged rubato. An even wider palette of colours would make his Chopin an irresistible proposition.
Wendy Chen’s recital is named after the rarely heard Bolero in C which opens the programme, and which also includes the four Ballades, presented rather oddly in reverse order. Despite moments of beauty and poise in her playing, for example the opening of the first Ballade, the overall impression is disappointing. Chen displays little sense of the overall sweep of the music, and when climactic phrases are reached, the effect is compromised by a brittle sound and a vulnerable technique. Stephen Haylett