Chopin: Piano Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35; Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53; Marche funèbre Op. 72 No.2; Impromptus, Opp. 29 & 36; Mazurkas, Op. 50/1, 2, 3

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Libra
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35; Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53; Marche funèbre Op. 72 No.2; Impromptus, Opp. 29 & 36; Mazurkas, Op. 50/1, 2, 3
PERFORMER: Angela Lear (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: MNU 9842 (distr. tel 0181 590 7380)
Angela Lear’s approach to the composer whom she has made her life’s work is admirable. Casting aside what she sees as virtuosic travesties of his work from ‘commercially promoted’ pianists, she aims to set down Chopin’s precise intentions according to numerous original sources including manuscripts, annotated early editions, etc. This disc is accompanied by a CD on which she explains her work on the B flat minor Sonata, the principal work on this recording. The proof is in the pudding, and this pudding is a curate’s egg. The danger of a research-based approach that seems to concentrate exclusively on the markings on the page is that one ends up unable to see the wood for the trees. Many would argue that there is far more to understanding Chopin’s aesthetics: aspects such as artistic context, structural analysis and, not least, the communicative power of poetic expression. Often Lear escapes this trap: there are some moments of real poetry. One example is her wonderfully speaking left hand in the trio of the scherzo in the sonata; and the Funeral March itself is both powerful and raptly intense.

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The short pieces, especially the nocturnes and the first Impromptu, have charm and lyricism in plenty. She is less successful with the first movement of the Sonata, which seems to lack a solid sense of direction and in which the balance of her left and right hands is very questionable in the first subject. Repetitive material remains sadly unimaginative and unvaried. Rubinstein’s recording of 1966 does have a sense of nobility and purpose that is hard for any pianist to match: there is a depth of understanding which goes beyond the marks on the page. Jessica Duchen