Julien Brocal performs piano works by Chopin

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Rubicon
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin
WORKS: 24 Preludes, Op. 28; Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35 (Marche funèbre)
PERFORMER: Julien Brocal (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: RCD 1001

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This double debut – Julien Brocal’s first CD and the launch of a new label devoted mainly to young artists – proves that even in a very crowded field there are new things to say. Even more to the point is the fact that this young French pianist says them with complete naturalness, for there is nothing contrived or attention-seeking about his approach to such well-known repertoire. His traversal of the 24 Preludes is spellbinding, and for all the right reasons. Where many dive headlong into the opening C major piece, Brocal is more measured, though he delivers plenty of virtuosity as the cycle unfolds. Despite initial appearances, he is not one for slow tempos, and the famous Raindrop prelude flows without hint of indulgence. Brocal also stresses the modernity of Chopin’s thinking, for example in bringing out the often recessed left-hand harmonies in the A minor piece.

From the Preludes, associated with the disastrous winter Chopin and George Sand spent in Mallorca in 1838-39, Brocal turns his attention to the Sonata in B flat minor, which Chopin completed the following summer, his first at Sand’s Nohant estate. Here the pianist strikes a compelling balance between Romantic volatility and Classical elegance. Each phrase feels carefully considered yet part of a bigger, cumulative picture, and the warm detail in Brocal’s touch is captured in superb sound. After a magnificent Marche funèbre, the finale sounds less like a ghostly ‘wind over the graveyard’ than an extended sigh of resignation – Brocal summing things up with another acknowledgement of Chopin’s forward-looking vision.

John Allison

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Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.