Alain Planès (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 905332.33 110:37 mins (2 discs)
The 1836 Pleyel piano featured in this set of the Chopin Nocturnes is a thing of beauty, to which I would happily listen in preference to most modern instruments in this repertoire. From a pinging, harp-like upper register to lightly buzzing low notes, it has clarity and a gentle, dusky tone that Alain Planès exploits to the full in this important and much-recorded part of Chopin’s output. Planès joins other – but not all – pianists in defining the ‘complete’ Nocturnes as the full 21 pieces, including the posthumously published works and those without opus numbers. Taken together, they are a reminder of Chopin’s genius: they may all be miniature tone paintings in the same ABA form, but each is entirely distinctive.
Many of Planès’s interpretations here are beyond reproach, and he sets the mood just right in the opening work of the sequence, Op. 9 No. 1 in B flat minor. Yet taken cumulatively, this is not a set that stands up against the greatest pianists in this music. Although the melodies sing with bel canto clarity, accompanying figures are sometimes lumpy and intrusive. Planès makes surprisingly little of those magical escaping triplets in the F major work, Op. 15 No. 1, and the F minor piece, Op. 55 No. 1, sounds somewhat square and staid. For the music’s full poetry you may want to look elsewhere, but listen here for a window on Chopin’s soundworld.