Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor; 24 Preludes, Op. 28

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor; 24 Preludes, Op. 28
PERFORMER: Maria João Pires (piano)RPO/André Previn
CATALOGUE NO: 437 817-2 DDD
Like Beethoven, Chopin achieved the unusual feat of writing his second piano concerto before his first. (The anomaly in each case is explained by the delayed publication of the earlier work.) It is a remarkably assured piece for a composer still in his teens, with a particularly memorable slow movement – a sensuous nocturne enclosing an impassioned operatic outburst.

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As in all Chopin’s concerted works the orchestra’s role in the proceedings is minimal. The more pity, then, that André Previn’s account of the one substantial orchestral passage, at the very opening of the work, is rather straight-laced – particularly when set alongside the declamatory freedom of Maria João Pires’s strongly characterised playing. It is unfortunate too that the famous passage in the finale which has the violins and violas tapping out the mazurka rhythm with the reverse side of their bows sounds so tentative. Still, the piano playing is the thing, and Pires is in commanding form throughout.

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No less impressive is her account of the 24 Preludes. It is not without its idiosyncrasies (among them the curious way in which she shies away from the sudden fortissimo of the last two notes in No. 12); but in her hands these highly charged miniatures come across with considerable force. Misha Donat