Chopin: Piano Concerto No.1

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Fantasia on Polish Airs, Op. 13; Krakowiak
PERFORMER: Eldar Nebolsin (piano); Warsaw PO/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572335

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Recording Chopin in the composer’s bicentenary year seems to be a desperately serious matter for Polish musicians. The Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit spare no effort in this minutely-wrought account of the First Concerto, its first recording made from the Polish National Chopin Edition. Every articulation is treated with kid gloves, every small adjustment to the text stands out.

Whether this does the flow of the music as a whole any good is more debatable. There is some beautifully shaped phrasing from the strings in the first movement’s exposition, but the performance feels predominantly ponderous, perhaps weighed down by a sense of its own significance, even in the finale, and the swimming-bath-style acoustic does little to help.

Youthful exuberance is left to the soloist, the excellent Eldar Nebolsin (36, from Uzbekistan), whose singing touch and genial musicality shines out against the orchestral stodge like a ballet dancer in a cake shop. Their ensemble is unimpeachable nonetheless, and Nebolsin’s attention to melodic detail in the intricate passagework matches Wit’s, even if one longs sometimes for him to lighten up and let the magic work.

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The Fantasia on Polish Airs and Krakowiak are welcome additions, two works we never hear enough of. Performed with affection, they fare rather better than the Concerto. For an alternative recording of the Concerto, it’s hard to do better than Artur Rubinstein who infuses every note of the piece with personality, poetry and panache; try his 1953 account with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Wallenstein, available on Naxos. Jessica Duchen