Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2

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WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2
PERFORMER: Ewa Kupiec (piano); Saarbrücken RSO/ Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Chopin’s two piano concertos have long been criticised for their supposedly weak orchestral contribution – more accompaniment than partner – and to what extent Chopin himself was responsible for the full scores is debatable. Stanisvaw Skrowaczewski, the Polish conductor on this release, argues in the booklet that his colleagues have been neglectful in the past, and his plea for more attention to detail as well as a fuller-bodied orchestral sound is borne out in the well-balanced recording. If you don’t mind a slightly dry though admirably clear studio acoustic, and a bit of special pleading for bassoon phrases which are not always very interesting, the sound-picture is ideally integrated, with unusual equality, and unanimity, of soloist (also Polish) and orchestra. It’s clear that much thought and careful preparation have gone into these performances, and in the opening movement of the E minor First Concerto, it shows in a degree of deliberate emphasis which is a bit ungainly, although once minor turns to major there is good playing from the strings. For sheer energy and expressive urgency, no pianist matches Martha Argerich, who erupts in a torrent of molten lava. Ewa Kupiec, cool by comparison, does not always rise to the challenge of Chopin’s volatile expressive directions, but both she and the conductor come into their own in the tricky finale, whose Krakowiak rhythm they shape very jauntily. If there’s a certain lack of passion and Schwung in the performance of the E minor Concerto, the more graceful F minor Concerto shines, here, by comparison, and the risky horn-call in the finale is splendidly brazen. Adrian Jack