Chopin: Etudes, Opp 10 & 25

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COMPOSERS: Chopin,Liszt
LABELS: Avie
WORKS: Chopin: Etudes, Opp 10 & 25; Liszt: Six transcriptions of Polish Songs by Chopin, S.480
PERFORMER: Luiza Borac (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2161

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This disc – which proudly celebrates the life of its producer John Barnes, who died in 2008 – gets better as it progresses. Luiza Borac won a BBC Music Magazine Award in 2007 for her splendid Enescu; here, caught in good if slightly over-reverberant sound, she tackles Chopin’s Etudes, enterprisingly prefacing them with Liszt’s arrangements of six of the master’s Polish Songs.

In these transcriptions Borac plays with lyrical beauty and unaffected poetry, projecting a sensitively-voiced singing line. Yet although she is always highly musical, her characterisation is rather generalised, and accompanying textures sometimes lack shape. There is little sense of what these songs are about.

In Chopin’s Etudes, Borac is in full technical control but only rarely brings a daring voltage to her performances. Her tempos are conservative, occasionally cautious, and the feeling of safety first seems to place a lid on her imaginative horizons. The Op. 10 Etudes in particular unfold naturally but sometimes without much inner life or direction.

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Exceptions include the superbly done No. 2 in A minor and No. 10 in A flat major. Op. 25 fares much better, with a wider range of colour and greater narrative flair. No. 5 in E minor skips off the page, while the central section of ‘octave’ B minor (No. 10) is both ravishing and imaginative. But overall Murray Perahia and, if you can find it, Juana Zayas find a better balance between poetry and virtuosity. Tim Parry