Chopin: Helios Special

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Helios
WORKS: Études; Waltzes; The Great Polonaises; Preludes & Impromptus; Chamber Music; Mazurkas, Vol. 1; Mazurkas, Vol. 2
PERFORMER: Garrick Ohlsson (piano), Leila Josefowicz (violin), Carter Brey (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: Helios CDH 55380; Helios CDH 55381; CDH 55382; CDH 55383; Helios CDH 55384; Helios CDH 55391; Helios CDH 55392

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Despite the plethora of great interpreters featured in the various Chopin anniversary boxes, there is much to be said for experiencing a single performer’s view of this composer. Most especially if the playing not only demonstrates complete technical command but also manages to bring freshness and insight to some extremely familiar music.

Judging by the seven highly impressive and warmly recorded discs which Hyperion has extracted from its currently available 16-CD boxed set survey of Chopin’s entire output, American pianist Garrick Ohlsson has all these qualities in abundance.

Having not heard the complete series, first released some years ago on the Arabesque label, I cannot be sure why these rather than other performances from that set have been selected.

But in any case, on the two discs of Mazurkas Ohlsson brings a phenomenal variety of expression and depth of characterisation to these exquisite miniatures – an approach that manages to capture the folk elements of the composer’s style to quite hypnotic effect. He is equally captivating in the Waltzes, delivering the bel canto musical line with great tenderness and affection and applying rubato in a spontaneous and entirely unmannered fashion.

Even more impressive is the disc of Polonaises, including a fine account of the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in the piano and orchestral version.

Again Ohlsson applies an exceptionally wide tonal range, bringing out all the passion and drama of the C sharp minor Op. 26 No. 1, for example, but also remaining alive to its moments of introversion and dark melancholy. In the wonderful Polonaise-Fantasy he encapsulates these contrasts while maintaining a real sense of impetus, driving irresistibly towards the work’s exciting conclusion.

Ohlsson also offers a compelling and involving 24 Preludes, maximising the music’s great variety of gesture and mood but never losing sight of its overall architecture. Likewise the Études are superbly despatched, if not quite achieving the same degree of dazzling brilliance Boris Berezovsky finds (on Warner).

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Finally, Ohlsson proves himself a sensitive chamber musician, joining forces with violinist Leila Josefowicz and cellist Carter Brey in an extremely convincing performance of the much underrated Piano Trio. Erik Levi