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Chopin: Piano Works, Vol. 7 (Louis Lortie)

Louis Lortie (piano) (Chandos)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Piano Works, Vol. 7: Rondo à la Mazur, Op. 5; Mazurkas; Rondos; Bolero; Polonaise etc
Louis Lortie (piano)
Chandos CHAN20241   73:00 mins


The longer pieces on this recording show Louis Lortie at his splendid best, making light of technical demands and building up climaxes with total authority. The famous A flat Polonaise is especially successful, taken just that touch more slowly than often, so that we appreciate its dignity and power

and possibly, as the note writer Jeffrey Kallberg suggests, its national symbolism.

But half the disc is devoted to four groups of mazurkas, and here things are not so happy. Kallberg’s excellent notes include the adjectives ‘strange and exotic’, ‘unsteady’, ‘hesitant’ and ‘deceptively simple’. Chopin’s syntax here was at least decades ahead of its time and, as this disc shows, can still cause puzzlement today. Among the problematic entities are unexpected repetitions, sometimes moving chromatically through foreign keys, bagpipe noises (how boring are they meant to be, if at all?) and abrupt changes of rhythm and/or dynamics. There are moments of dignity and power here too, but also of extreme delicacy, with ‘the hammers grazing the strings’, as Berlioz recalled, and in these Lortie could profitably have lowered the dynamics still further.

One habit that worried me particularly is his insertion of tiny gaps in melodies between fast decorations and long final notes, which I hear as the natural climaxes of the phrases. Sadly, I must confess that the magic of these mazurkas is largely missing. You can enjoy it with Arthur Rubinstein (all 51 on YouTube) or with the French pianist Youra Guller of the same vintage (11 on Doron DRC 4012).

Roger Nichols

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