WORKS: Ballade No. 1; Ballade No. 2; Ballade No. 3; Ballade No. 4; Andante spianato & Grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22; Polonaise-fantaisie, Op. 61
PERFORMER: Míceál O’Rourke (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9353 DDD
An Irish pianist who has toured Poland several times as guest of the Chopin Society of Warsaw and has been awarded the Chopin Medal at the composer’s birthplace clearly merits investigation, and Míceál O’Rourke’s interpretations hold great interest. He plays with soul and spirit and an apt rubato, and he has an intuitive feel for the shaping of a phrase. The lines and notes that matter most are unfailingly emphasised, and he’s a master of the calculated build-up.
There are some surprises. The famous suspended dissonance which heralds the First Ballade’s moderato (track 1, 0:34) is held for as long as I ever remember it, but the protracted wait heightens the effect of the ensuing entry. The lilting theme of the Second Ballade is on the slow side, but this makes for a particularly pronounced contrast with the stormy episodes.
The Fourth Ballade starts wistfully, and O’Rourke’s gradual unwinding of the cantilena is inspirational. Interpretations are carefully thought out, and the Ballades register as unified pieces, not as collections of parts. The Andante spianato is enchanting and, in the Polonaise-fantasie, I don’t recall a more melting delivery of one of my favourite phrases in all Chopin (track 7, from 5:55).