Chopin's two piano concertos have long been admired more as pianistic vehicles than as integrated works for piano and orchestra. But in his revelatory new recording, Krystian Zimerman suggests otherwise: The opening orchestral tuttis have so much more light, shade, orchestral color, and detail, you wonder if they've been rewritten. Every gesture, every instrumental solo is so specifically characterized that by the time the piano makes a dramatic entrance, the pieces have become operas without words.
Since his triumph as winner of the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition, pianist Garrick Ohlsson, has established himself worldwide as a musician of magisterial interpretive and technical prowess. Ohlsson said of this set, “This monumental recording project first came about when the American record company Arabesque approached me with an irresistible offer to record the complete works of Chopin.
Maria João Pires “shapes and colours every phrase, and with immaculate taste, and she makes sure the phrases end as eloquently as they begin,” wrote Gramophone in 1974. “She conveys not just the details but the relevance of every note to the whole … Best of all, she communicates everything she has discovered about the music, and it is worth having.” This Portuguese pupil of Wilhelm Kempff, Pires was one of the artists who defined the Erato label in the 1970s and 1980s. This 5-CD box gathers together the recordings she made over the period from 1976 to 1985 and it reflects the consistent focus of her repertoire, with its special emphasis on Austro-German composers of the Classical and early-Romantic periods. Embracing solo works, piano duets and concertos, it contains works by Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven, but also by Bach and Chopin.
It was an eminently sensible decision to couple Zimerman's previously separate Chopin concertos on a single CD. The Ax/Ormandy/RCA disc is the only rival as a coupling, so let me say at once that in different moods I would be equally happy with either. The main difference, I think, is the actual sound. From DG we get a closer, riper sonority, with Zimerman's piano much more forwardly placed. Both orchestra and piano are more distanced on the RCA recording, especially Ax's piano. This, together with Ax's lighter, more translucent semiquaver figuration (and sometimes his greater willingness to stand back and merely accompany—as in certain episodes in the F minor Concerto's finale) often conjures up visions of Chopin himself at the keyboard, and we know he was often criticized for insufficiently strong projection.
The most-talked about artist of the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition created huge excitement and world-wide media attention with his riveting background and “genius-like playing” (Boris Berezovksy). Debargue, who is 25, started the piano late at 11 years old, learning mostly in isolation. After dropping the instrument for three years to play in a rock band and study literature, he started formal piano training aged 20. Placed 4th, he was described by media as “the real winner” of the competition and received the Music Critics’ Association award as “the pianist whose incredible gift, artistic vision and creative freedom have impressed the critics as well as the audience.” Valery Gergiev, the competition’s chairman, broke protocol by letting Debargue play in the winners’ gala and not prizewinner Dmitry Masleev. Lucas Debargue's debut album is a live recording at the Salle Cortot in Paris and documents his first concert in his hometown after the competition. The centrepiece of his first recording is Ravel’s monumentally challenging Gaspard de la nuit.