Chopin: Masterworks

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Warner
WORKS: Masterworks: Piano Concertos; Piano Sonatas Nos 2 & 3 etc
PERFORMER: Berezovsky, Leonskaja, Pires, Sebök (piano); Monte-Carlo Opera Orchestra/Armin Jordan
CATALOGUE NO: Warner 2564 68717-4 (5 discs)

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In comparison to some of the other major record companies, Warner Classics has undoubtedly had a much more limited supply of recordings upon which to draw for its two boxed sets of Chopin. Nevertheless, Warners has retained a similar principle to EMI, DG and Sony by ensuring that a commendable variety of interpreters appear on each release. Yet although variety offers listeners some strikingly contrasting approaches to the composer, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee playing that is consistently engaging.

Of the two sets (both confusingly entitled Chopin Masterworks and only distinguished from each other on the shelves by the respective colour of the boxes) the one which opens with Maria João Pires’s stylish accounts of the two Piano Concertos is perhaps more variable in this respect.

A definite high is achieved with Boris Berezovsky’s dazzling and beautifully recorded complete Études. On the other hand, despite his formidable technical prowess, I found little to recommend in György Sebök’s rather heavy-handed performances of the Second and Third Sonatas which also suffer from a poor recording that seems to minimise the music’s dynamic range.

Likewise I must confess that despite my strong admiration for her powerful intellectual approach, Elisabeth Leonskaja’s survey of the complete Nocturnes seems a little cool and lacking a certain degree of spontaneity.

In the opening item of the second set Nikolai Lugansky offers a similarly detached, almost Classical conception of the 24 Préludes, though one might argue that this particular work can withstand such a treatment. Leonskaja appears once again, but her muscular playing is far more convincing and appropriate in the Polonaises.

As one might expect, Pires is elegant and charming delivering admirable performances of 14 Waltzes. Yet the real discovery here is the seriously underrated Cyprien Katsaris whose interpretations of the complete Ballades and Scherzos have a tremendous sense of forward momentum but are sufficiently fluid in nuance to encapsulate intimacy and moments of real tenderness.

The final two discs of the second set feature some comparative rarities. I was particularly pleased to make the acquaintance of the haunting 14 Mélodies which are very evocatively sung by soprano Teresa Zylis-Gara, though the recording is rather dry. Far less satisfying is Frédéric Lodéon’s impossibly mannered account of the Cello Sonata.

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The first movement seems to hobble from one moment to another with little feeling for the music’s overall architecture, and the recording places the undeniably impressive François-René Duchâble far too close to the microphone in comparison to his cellist colleague. Erik Levi