Jin Ju’s Evolving Chopin

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

Jin Ju’s second release devoted to Chopin’s late works finds this Beijing-based pianist to have made interpretive strides since her previous volume. She’s minimized her tendency toward shapeless push/pull rubato—not in the sectionalized and slack treatment of the B minor sonata’s Allegro maestoso (complete with exposition repeat to prolong the boredom), but rather in her elegantly lilting Scherzo, not to mention the firmness and continuity that Ju imparts in the Largo. The finale begins well but grows heavier as it progresses.

As is so often the case when a pianist relies on generic, stock-in-trade expressive gestures, you can increasingly predict Ju’s cadential ritards throughout the Berceuse. But her “Minute” and C-sharp minor Op. 64 waltzes offer fresh and shapely phrasings, while the A-flat Op. 63’s highlighted left-hand line in the Trio also proves convincingly ear-catching.

If Ju can’t make up her mind over which direction the Op. 56 No. 1 Mazurka’s main theme should go, she compensates with a fleet and decisive Trio. She digs into Op. 56 No. 2’s left-hand drones with earthy deliberation, in one of this folk-oriented Mazurka’s strongest recorded performances. Given Ju’s proclivities, the brooding Op. 56 No. 3 is surprisingly matter-of-fact, even too literal at times.

Some listeners might find the B major Op. 63 No. 1’s basic tempo on the slow and lumbering side, but by playing the central section in fairly strict tempo Ju captures the right hand’s long and continuous legato line that other pianists habitually poke and prod. I like Ju’s hesitant, questioning way with the posthumously published F minor (Chopin’s final work in this genre) and the Op. 63 F minor and C-sharp minor pieces, although she loses clarity in the latter’s canonic writing. And her capable yet slightly square approach to the Cello Sonata Largo arrangement seems more suited to Brahms.

Despite my reservations, I’m nonetheless pleased to hear how Jin Ju’s Chopin playing has developed and evolved over the years. MDG’s engineering appears a bit “toppy” and overly resonant in conventional two-channel playback mode, yet opens up and fills the room when you switch to surround sound.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Chopin--Late Piano Works Vol. 2
Reference Recording: Sonata No. 3: Argerich (DG), Berceuse: Perahia (Sony), Waltzes: Rubinstein (RCA), Mazurkas: Barbosa (Centaur); Rubinstein (RCA)

    Piano Sonata in B minor Op. 58; Berceuse Op. 57; Waltzes Op. 64; Mazurkas Op. 56 & 63; Mazurkas Op. 67 Nos. 2 & 4; Mazurka in F minor; Cello Sonata Op. 65: Largo (arranged for solo piano by Alfred Cortot)
  • Jin Ju (piano)
  • MDG - 947 2088 6
  • SACD

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