Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor
PERFORMER: François-René Duchable (piano); Toulouse Capitole Orchestra/Michel Plasson
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56682 2
From the explosive piano entry in the E minor concerto, Martha Argerich’s new recording of Chopin’s piano concertos – revisiting repertoire recorded by her in the Sixties and Seventies – leaves no doubt that she is more than ever a supremely commanding performer. Drive and muscularity are tempered with the most persuasive, caressing gestures in playing whose authority of utterance and integrity of vision almost silence criticism. Every note – even the few where Argerich’s constantly inspired and imaginative interpretation verges on eccentricity – shines with purpose.

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Argerich playing Chopin sounds so natural that the beauty of what she does is best appreciated by listening to someone who doesn’t. Enter François-René Duchable. Duchable’s strengths – economy, efficiency and clarity – are immediately clear, but so are his deficiencies. Where Argerich’s artistry legitimises her free approach to tempo, Duchable is a model of regularity: compare his occasional slowing and speeding up again to Argerich’s carefully shaped phrases and he sounds more than anything like a tipsy metronome.

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His almost legalistic respect for the letter of the score only helps to reveal a lack of inventiveness, especially in the first movement of the First Concerto, when momentum gives out well before the close, and in both rather dull slow movements, where Duchable’s stolidity declares him a cold fish next to Argerich’s seductress. The young Pollini and Ashkenazy recorded glittering performances of these concertos without the quirkiness of Argerich, but it’s sublime quirkiness, and in future my benchmark would be hers. Christopher Wood