Chopin Liszt

COMPOSERS: Chopin Liszt
LABELS: Hungaraton
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin Liszt
WORKS: Four Ballades
PERFORMER: Tamás Vásáry (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HCD 32271
This is a frustrating CD, mainly because Hungaraton have let down an esteemed pianist with a shoddy production, where edits are not so much perceptible by minor audible blips or more subtle fissures in musical continuity, but are betrayed by frequent and dramatic shifts of sonic perspective. In the Chopin Ballades especially, we are not only aware of edits but can guess which passages proved problematic and were revisited on subsequent days.

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The Hungarian pianist Tamás Vásáry, now in his seventies, can be an inspirational performer. There is a rough-hewn spontaneity in these recordings, and a strong communicative spirit still burns within him, but too often the passion of his playing is undermined by a sense of physical struggle, a lack of technical polish and refinement. In Liszt’s Sonata the most virtuosic passages mix excitement with indiscipline. The fugue has neither the razor-sharp focus of Zimerman nor the exhilarating execution of Demidenko, while the sublime closing pages are prosaic alongside Zimerman or Arrau.

The Chopin Ballades share many of the same traits, from the dramatic commitment and the driving momentum to the smudged articulation under stress and the occasional over-pedalling. Despite the intermittent fire and grandeur of Vásáry’s playing, I yearn for sharper dramatic contrasts in the Second Ballade, a more limpid singing line in the Third, a greater aristocratic poise in the Fourth. There are more recommendable versions, from Perahia and Hough to the young Ashkenazy (his 1963 recording).

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The basic recorded sound is perfectly acceptable; the low rating is purely because of the alarmingly nomadic microphones. Tim Parry