Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto no. 2; Variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’; Grande Polonaise, Brillante, Op. 22; Fantasy on Polish Airs, Op. 13; Krakowiak, Op. 14

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto no. 2; Variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’; Grande Polonaise, Brillante, Op. 22; Fantasy on Polish Airs, Op. 13; Krakowiak, Op. 14
PERFORMER: Kun-Woo Paik (piano); Warsaw PO/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 475 1692
Chopin’s works for piano and orchestra, all from the start of his career, were designed to promote his fortunes as an aspiring virtuoso. While commentators praise the solo writing, few manage to raise much enthusiasm for Chopin’s handling of the orchestra feeling it lacking in imagination and lucidity. This rather misses the point since the focus of attention, not surprisingly, is on the piano. Moreover, this view overlooks many genuinely ear-catching moments: the bouncy horn call heralding the conclusion of the finale of the Second Concerto and the meltingly beautiful dialogue between the piano and the wind section of the orchestra toward the end of the Krakowiak spring to mind.

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While full of delightful detail, this gathering of all of Chopin’s concertante works is something of a mixed bag. The Krakowiak is throughout an unalloyed pleasure from its understated, highly expressive introduction to the joyous treatment of the dance in the main section. Kun-Woo Paik responds to the demands of the piano writing with confidence and genuine humour. Much the same is true of the other smaller concertante works. The concertos fare less well. While Antoni Wit and the orchestra do splendid things with the more tender instrumental lines, the opening of the E minor Concerto is disappointingly stolid. Nor does the recording, which on balance favours a warm orchestral, sound, allow the wind detail to emerge with real clarity. Kun-Woo Paik’s playing in the concertos is also rather mixed: always alive to the rich sentiment of these pieces, the more rapid passage work occasionally sounds overly brittle, a tendency again not helped by the recording of the piano sound. These are certainly recommendable performances, particularly for the more reflective moments, but they exist in a very competitive field and are certainly no match for Martha Argerich’s incandescent recording of 1998.

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Jan Smaczny