Maurizio Pollini, piano. DG 00289 477 5718 (two-disc set).
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Ever since Maurizio Pollini won the Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1960, he has been the world's leading exponent of the composer's music, matched perhaps only by Arthur Rubinstein before him. For example, no one in the last forty-odd years has surpassed Pollini's recording of the Chopin First Piano Concerto on EMI. I can't imagine this DG recording of the complete Nocturnes being surpassed any time soon, either.
The set includes all nineteen of Chopin's little "night pieces," each of them played with consummate musicianship, quiet melancholy, overt drama, unabashed sentiment, and dazzling virtuosity. Never does any single piece sound less than spectacular, making us listen anew to music we thought we had heard enough times that it would never impress us again. And by presenting the various Nocturnes in chronological order, one hears fascinating comparisons and contrasts as the composer matures over the years.
If I have one concern, it's minor: Each of the discs in the set contains only a little over forty minutes, which seems short measure for a two-disc set. Other such sets fill out the balance of the free time with additional Chopin compositions. But this is, as I say, a minor concern. With music this good and playing this superb, who can complain? Surely, one cannot grouse about the sound. DG has always recorded piano music well, and this is no exception, the piano sounding neither too close nor too distant, too big nor too small. The sonics are clear and clean, with a touch of warm ambient glow to make it more realistic. I loved every moment of this set.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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