Louis Lortie’s Chopin Cycle Continues

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

Chopin’s Mazurkas and Polonaises may be nationalistic in origin, yet their musical impact is universal. They also seem to withstand a wide range of interpretive options that will suit some tastes more than others. For my money, Louis Lortie overthinks some of the Op. 7 Mazurkas. The pianist understands No. 1’s cross-rhythmic effects, but those prolonged trills are too contrived to convince, while he reads too much between the lines in Nos. 4 and 5 for their charm and simplicity to register.

Happily, the opposite is true in the understated C major Op. 33 No. 3. If Lortie doesn’t follow Ignaz Friedman’s boisterous template in the D major Op. 33 No. 2 his metric scansion and sharply pointed accents still are right on the money. The B minor Op. 33 No. 4 is both lyrically flexible and animated at the same time; the loud sections press forward without losing their grounding. However, the Op. 59 triumvirate contains Lortie’s most elegant and proportioned Mazurka interpretations.

Of the two Op. 26 Polonaises, the second (in E-flat minor) better absorbs Lortie’s arguably discursive rubatos. The great F-sharp minor Polonaise Op. 44 receives an intelligent and well-controlled performance that fares best in the central mazurka episode. But Lortie plays it safe in the ascending octaves and tumultuous unison runs: no match for Horowitz’s daring electricity, or Rubinstein’s swagger.

But he makes light of the Allegro de concert’s thankless double notes, and imbues implicit solo/orchestra textures with plenty of character and diversity. The performance may not equal Ashkenazy for sheer power and scintillation, yet Lortie’s wealth of nuance and effortless virtuosity also manage to make this problematic work sound like a veritable masterpiece. In short, collectors who’ve been following Lortie’s ongoing integral Chopin cycle from the start will find enough to admire in Volume 5 to justify acquiring it.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Louis Lortie Plays Chopin, Volume 5
Reference Recording: Polonaises Op. 26: Rubinstein (RCA); Polonaise Op. 44: Horowitz (Sony), Mazurkas: Rubinstein (RCA); Allegro de Concert: Ashkenazy (Decca)

    Mazurkas Op. 7, 33, & 59; Polonaises Op. 26 & Op. 44; Allegro de concert Op. 46
  • Louis Lortie (piano)

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