Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 3; Nocturnes, Op. 62; Mazurkas, Opp. 59 & 63, Op. 67 Nos 2 & 4 & Op. 68/4; Cello Sonata; Waltzes, Op. 64; Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat, Op. 61 etc
PERFORMER: Maria João Pires (piano), Pavel Gomziakov (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: DG 477 7483

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Anyone familiar with Maria João Pires’s previous Chopin recordings – especially the complete Nocturnes and the Op. 28 Preludes – will expect music-making of the utmost calibre and integrity, and at its best this is exactly what we get in this selection of late works: wonderful Chopin-playing where you feel you’re listening to the music rather than to the pianist.

Pires’s musical qualities are well known: clarity and resilience of line, luminous singing tone, a near-ideal balance between aristocratic poise and emotional absorption, and a rare poetic eloquence. In the Third Sonata her notably personal rubato adds to, rather than detracts from, the music’s sense of flow.

The slow movement is arguably too slow, but thanks to her gorgeously sustained line and tonal control it remains utterly compelling. Other pianists bring more effortless limpidity to the scherzo, and, as in the case of Dinu Lipatti’s famous recording, more drive and power to the finale, but on its own terms Pires’s account is deeply satisfying. The Op. 62 Nocturnes are beautifully done, as are the Op. 59 Mazurkas.

In the other large-scale work here, the Cello Sonata Op. 65, Pires partners the Russian cellist Pavel Gomziakov (don’t expect the booklet to tell you anything about him). This is a broad and reflective reading, with a lovely tone from both cello and piano, helped by DG’s terrific sound, and a sense of dialogue and shared understanding that is very rewarding. Rostropovich and Argerich give a very different view, more intense and volatile but no more beautiful.

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What I occasionally miss here is a feeling of the music’s charm and fantasy, perhaps partly fuelled by Pires’s reluctance to embrace a feathered lightness of touch. Most disappointing are the Op. 64 Waltzes, where Pires communicates little sense of joy, with limited tonal variety or rhythmic subtlety. Nitpicking aside, this set will provide lasting nourishment and pleasure. Tim Parry