Chopin: The Complete Preludes

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COMPOSERS: Fryderyk Chopin
LABELS: Telarc
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin: The Complete Preludes
WORKS: Preludes Nos 1-26; Barcarolle; Fantasie
PERFORMER: Vanessa Perez (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: TEL3338802

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This Venezuelan-American pianist announces on her website that, with this CD, ‘I didn’t want pretty. I wanted honest.’ And ‘honest’ came to mind while listening to her playing (before I had looked at her site), so in some ways this CD must be counted a success. The surging way she plays the opening Prelude suggests pleasure in the sheer physicality of performance; the defiant dourness of the second suggests a personal vision. Spun out fast, these pieces become a variegated chain, with crisp detail and vivid characterisation. Every note is distinct in the star-spangled elaborations of Prelude No. 8, but No. 14 is reduced to a sustained and undifferentiated growl. The cantabile preludes – notably Nos 15 and 17 – are emotionally restrained, but sung with a honeyed tone. Where one wants fury, however – in Nos 18 and 22 – one merely gets a peremptory briskness. The overall effect is small-scale and intimate, but the lack of weight may in part be owing to the recording. It’s a bonus to get the rarely performed posthumous A flat major Prelude, passing like the wind in 38 seconds.

The two larger pieces – the Barcarolle and Fantaisie – reflect more serious limitations. There’s nothing transcendent about this Barcarolle, while the Fantaisie is curiously two-dimensional. This great work requires drama and grandeur. I suspect that Perez is at heart a rationalist, not a Romantic.

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Michael Church