Chopin: Complete Nocturnes

LABELS: Athene; Quartz
WORKS: Complete Nocturnes
PERFORMER: Bernard d’Ascoli (piano)Llyr Williams (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 23201; 2040
If one polarizes different approaches


to performing Chopin’s Nocturnes,

with Artur Rubinstein’s elegance as

one ideal and the intense dramatic

undercurrents of Maria João Pires as

another, Bernard d’Ascoli’s approach

sits firmly at Pires’s end of the

spectrum. His are deeply probing,

exploratory, at times unsettling

performances, yet they undoubtedly

carry an underlying authority and

conviction that is persuasive even

– perhaps especially – when they

challenge preconceived notions.

D’Ascoli prefers a full-bodied gutsy

sonority to a more obvious caressing

beauty, and his approach can be

dangerously brusque or volatile. In

some Nocturnes – the famous E flat

major, Op. 9 No. 2, for example,

which is hardly ‘espressivo’ or ‘dolce’

– he shuns surface seductiveness

and tonal nuance, yet he retains an

imperious sense of line and his direct

style of playing is compelling.

Overall, d’Ascoli’s bold playing is

better suited to the more complex,

later Nocturnes (his limited range

of pianissimo is an issue in some of

the earlier ones) and Chopin’s two

Op. 48 Nocturnes in particular

are outstanding. D’Ascoli’s

rubato – often intense, sometimes

counterintuitive – lies at the heart

of his music-making, and makes his

Chopin alive and self-renewing.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic

about Llyr Williams’s first

commercial disc, also of Chopin.

The first impression is the spongy

recorded sound – deriving, less

successfully, from the same venue

as d’Ascoli’s Nocturnes. But more

seriously, the final impression

is that Williams offers little

characterisation or imaginative

flair in this repertoire. No. 4 of

the Preludes is lyrically stiff, No. 8

marred by emergency pedalling,

and the virtuoso No. 16 little more

than a dutiful run-through. I was

also less than convinced by some of

his interpretative decisions. Why

the heavy rit at the end of No. 14?

Why so reticent with the glorious

tolling A flats at the end of No. 17?

Turn to either Pires or Sokolov, and

you hear a totally different level of

musicianship and pianistic class. And

I’m afraid Williams was ill-advised to

record Chopin’s F minor Ballade, one

of his most demanding and elusive

masterpieces. A unusually sedate Second Scherzo rounds off a disc that

comes as a let-down given Williams’s

growing reputation. One can only

assume this disc doesn’t show him at

his best, and I hope future projects

will reveal the full scope of his


potential. Tim Parry