COMPOSERS: Frédéric Chopin
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin
WORKS: Preludes, Op. 28; Berceuse, Op. 57, Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op. 44, Barcarolle, Op. 60
PERFORMER: Nelson Goerner
CATALOGUE NO: Alpha 244
Chopin’s Preludes constitute a neat riposte to JS Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues through the perfect arc which they describe – following a plan of descending thirds, each major prelude is followed by one in its relative minor. They share the same opus number, yet they were composed over an eight-year span, beginning with the second (and also maybe the last) in 1831, and ending in a concerted rush during Chopin’s sojourn with George Sand in Majorca. Some of them are nocturnes, others are mazurkas, caprices, etudes, or quasi-improvisations, and each inhabits its own soundworld, but the cumulative effect is best evoked by Baudelaire’s simile of ‘a brilliant bird hovering over an abyss of horrors’. The technical challenges to the performer are outweighed by the aesthetic one – to honour the uniqueness of each piece and to reflect the coherence of the whole.
Nelson Goerner’s take is a great relief, for this Argentinian pianist possesses artistry of a very high order. He purveys poetry as natural as breathing, even when the music is as austere as that of Prelude No. 2. Without over-inflating their importance, he lets these pieces flower each in their own way, with the shading finely-judged and the structure pellucid; his virtuosity (eg in No. 16) is dazzling, and so are the little flashes of originality with which he illuminates what would otherwise seem routine and familiar.