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

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2
PERFORMER: Nikolai Demidenko (piano) The Philharmonia/Heinrich Schiff
Chopin described the romance of his First Piano Concerto as ‘quiet and melancholic – it should give the impression of gazing tenderly at a place which brings to mind a thousand dear memories’. His own playing was described in similar terms; dreamily soft and inward, with a power to summon up the listener’s happy memories. There’s precious little inwardness in these performances, which are technically polished but fail to touch the heart. This is partly the fault of the recording; the piano has that coldly analytic, almost surreally clear quality so common in digital recordings, and the orchestral sound is glassy and bodiless. Demidenko’s performance is certainly individual, but in an irritatingly mannered way. Chopin’s melodies should always be inflected with rubato (small expressive changes of tempi), but Demidenko’s way of doing it draws attention to him rather than to the music. Compare this with Murray Perahia (Sony), where the rubato always sounds completely natural, and whose performances have that warmth and affection so lacking in this version. Ivan Hewett