Selected Chopin Nocturns performed by David Fray

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Erato
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin
WORKS: Nocturnes – selection; Mazurkas, Op. 17/2 & Op. 63/2; Polonaise-Fantasie, Op. 61; Impromptu No. 3, Op. 51; Waltz, Op. 69/1
PERFORMER: David Fray (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 9029589647

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At first glance there seems no obvious rationale governing this collection of pieces dotted at random through Chopin’s life. The liner note suggests that they should be perceived as falling into five sections, each held together by stylistic echoes and unexpected associations, but that is a fanciful view. My own feeling is that what David Fray presents is one single composite fantasy, with a powerful touch of grandeur – in the Polonaise-Fantaisie – in the middle. There is none of the anguish, the heroism, or even the occasional bits of ugliness which also characterise Chopin’s oeuvre. It’s an hour of easy-listening, but at such a stratospheric level of artistry that one is dazzled from first note to last.

Fray uses plenty of pedal, but one is struck by his bright, clean sound, and by the way he lets each piece unfold; the ornamentation is leisurely and pellucid, every note in every arpeggiation fastidiously placed, and his singing line is a delight. In his hands the great C minor Nocturne becomes dreamily declamatory, with a lovely control of contrasting sonorities. Some pieces – notably the C sharp minor Nocturne – emerge with unusual intimacy, and he often waits until a coda before letting loose the emotion; the close of the F minor Op. 55 Nocturne, when the melody dissolves into rapid figurations, goes like a breath of wind. He himself has described the late F minor Mazurka as being like a message left in the sand, and that is how it comes over: with just a hint of a question.

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Michael Church