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

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No.2
PERFORMER: Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano); Czech PO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-23449-2
It would be hard to imagine two more different approaches to the Chopin concertos than these. Elisabeth Leonskaja’s beautifully recorded disc comes with the advantage of the Czech Philharmonic in fine form, and a conductor who knows the pieces inside out. Her playing is remarkably assured and musical throughout, though in the last resort one misses that natural sense of rubato that is the lifeblood of any real Chopin player.

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Krystian Zimerman goes to the opposite extreme: his performances are extraordinarily lingering – so broad that for once it has not proved possible to accommodate both concertos on a single disc (DG is offering two for the price of one). Even Zimerman’s own previous recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Giulini – himself not exactly known as a speed-merchant – fitted comfortably on one CD.

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The first thing that needs to be said about Zimerman’s new recording is that the piano playing itself is spellbindingly beautiful. That much is not in question. What is more open to doubt is Zimerman’s entire conception of these youthful pieces, whose structure is already at times quite precarious. It’s all a matter of taste, of course, but the orchestral playing, with its exaggerated hairpin dynamics and swooning string portamentos, seems to me to verge dangerously on the sentimental – a mite closer to Hollywood than Warsaw. For all the pellucid quality of Zimerman’s playing, more naturally expressive performances, and equally fine pianism, are to be found on Martha Argerich’s recent recording with Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra – my disc of the year in last month’s BBC Music Magazine. Misha Donat