Ballades; Nocturnes – selection
Lara Melda (piano)
Champs Hill CHRCD 153 76:12 mins
There is much to admire here: total technical control, sensitivity to linear balance, a wide range of dynamics and warm tone. If the Nocturnes seem to be more Lara Melda’s natural territory, that’s mainly because the Ballades throw up more searching questions of structure.
Only two points concerned me, but both are crucial. Firstly, rests. Mozart famously declared, ‘The music in not in the notes, but in the silence in between.’ Of course he was exaggerating, but to a good purpose: just because the sound stops, our ears and brains don’t stop with it. While rests with a pause mark can be treated variously, plain rests do need strict observance as contributing to the overall rhetoric. While Melda’s rubato is generally subtle and persuasive, the holes in the discourse are considerably less so. Allied with this is the whole question of slowing down at the ends of phrases. To ban this completely (even if Dutilleux demanded it in his own music) would be taking Puritanism to an extreme. More helpfully, pianists should be aware of the law of diminishing returns. If a majority of phrases end with a ritardando, the impact gradually withers, to the point that the result actually becomes irritating. The motto is ‘Choose your rits stingily and meaningfully!’
It’s a pity that Melda leaves her worst infraction to the final bars of the disc, playing the four chords at the end of the Fourth Ballade at twice their notated speed, ruining the majestic close to one of Chopin’s greatest works.