Chopin: Piano Concertos/Weissenberg

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 3

Sound Quality: 7

I always felt that I could live without the Chopin Concertos, and managed to–until Alexis Weissenberg dusted off the cobwebs from Mme Sand’s salon and made these works a contemporary experience. So wrote Glenn Gould in 1976, yet somehow I never managed to hear these 1968 recordings until now, via their present budget-priced incarnation. Weissenberg not only scrubs the aforementioned cobwebs clean, but also rubs out the music’s poetry, bel canto syntax, and lyrical implications. He reduces Chopin’s dynamic spectrum to three or four shades of loud. Moreover, the pianist’s extreme rubatos usually sound overcalculated and forced (the second subject in the E minor concerto’s first movement, for instance).

You might say the same thing about Claudio Arrau’s larger-than-life ritards and inflections, but that pianist could back up his notions with a warm, sustained sonority and an intense desire to serve rather than dominate the composer. Weissenberg, by contrast, surveys the central movements with slow and steady detachment. At least Stanislaw Skrowaczewski invests Chopin’s underrated orchestral accompaniments with a seriousness of purpose and wealth of detail (pungently present brass, clear and shapely bass lines, vibrant and sustained string chording in the slow movements) that easily transcends his orchestra’s less-than-perfect ensemble syncronicity. On the other hand, Skrowaczewski’s Chopin E minor collaboration with Artur Rubinstein boasts similar interpretive virtues and a superior orchestra. But if you’re going to buy the two Chopin concertos primarily for the accompaniments, you might as well have a more sympathetic soloist on hand: try Zimerman and Giulini on DG. In sum, this is recommended to those who like piano playing as clean as clockwork…orange!



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Argerich (EMI)

FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN - Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

  • EMI - 5 74959 2
  • CD

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