Études, Op. 10; Études, Op. 25; Trois Nouvelles Études
Sonya Bach (piano)
Rubicon RCD1042 64:12 mins
Chopin’s études are not actually technical studies. At least, not purely. While they are certain to improve the pianistic abilities of anyone who is able to master them, when it comes to listening to them we should be focusing on anything but that. These are musical poems as inspired and imaginative as Chopin’s preludes, waltzes or ballades, and myriad magical colours can be coaxed out of each one’s short pages, provided the pianist has the requisite paintbox of possible touches poised between brain and fingertip.
Sonya Bach can certainly manage the lot, often gamely and at impressive tempos, but hers are generally somewhat prosaic rather than poetic accounts, and in technical terms a certain lack of greater finesse sometimes prevents the pieces rising beyond their étude status. Qualities in the music that ideally should receive a little more attention include the balance of voicing (eg the awkward Op. 10 No. 7), a tendency to mannerism (the songful Op. 10 No. 3 suffers from an odd slowing down at the end of virtually every bar) and a general sense of struggle that prevents enough atmosphere from finding its way into the dramatic ‘Winter Winds’ Etude Op. 25 No. 11. One could add much more imagination in terms of sonic nuance, to say nothing of delicacy of touch. Recorded sound quality, though, is sympathetic and clear.
For a recording that reaches the parts many others do not, try Zlata Chochieva’s supple, fluid, iridescent account on Piano Classics.