Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Nocturnes Nos. 4, 5, 7, and 8; Ballade No 1; Polonaise No. 6.  Maurizio Pollini, piano; Paul Kletzki, Philharmonia Orchestra. EMI 50999 6 31780 2 9.

My Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines "classic" as "a work of the first rank, esp. one of demonstrably enduring quality; an artistic production considered a standard; a work that is honored as definitive in its field; something noteworthy of its kind and worth remembering; one that is considered to be highly prestigious or the most important of its kind." One might easily apply all of those meanings to Maurizio Pollini's 1960 EMI recording of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11.

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was only around twenty years old when he wrote his two Piano Concertos, writing the Concerto we know today as No. 2 before he wrote No. 1, but publishing it later, thus giving it the misleading number 2. So, if Concerto No. 1 seems more mature and has become more popular, it's because it wasn't Chopin's first attempt in the genre. And the reason I mention the composer's age when he composed the piece is because Pollini was only eighteen when he recorded it, shortly after he won the International Ettore Pozzoli Piano Competition in Seregno, Italy (1959), and the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Poland (1960). Youth serves youth.

In the first movement, Pollini is in equal measure poetic and heroic without an ounce of sappiness, a movement that comes through all the more powerfully for its straightforwardness. When Pollini executes the famous main theme, it, too, flows effortlessly with a gentle, expressive, unforced charm. I suppose you could call it a restrained passion, which makes it all the more passionate.

Chopin himself described the second movement Romanze as "...calm and melancholy, giving the impression of someone looking gently towards a spot which calls to mind a thousand happy memories. It is a kind of reverie in the moonlight on a beautiful spring evening." Such is Pollini's interpretation, which lingers dreamily in the moonlight as much as any other account, the pianist striking every note with uncluttered assurance and conveying a mood of unlimited tranquillity. Pollini floats the melody along in the most lyrical possible manner, yet never drawing attention to anything but the music.

Finally, in the closing Rondo Vivace, Pollini produces an interpretation both playful and vigorous, his unaffected technique dazzling and persuasive.

Pollini recorded the accompanying solo works in 1968, and they lend an added value to this mid-price bargain. The solo pieces include the Nocturne No. 4 in F, Op. 15, No. 1; Nocturne No. 5 in F sharp, Op. 15, No. 2; Nocturne No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 1; Nocturne No. 8 in D flat, Op. 27, No. 2; the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23; and the Polonaise No. 6 in A flat, Op. 53, "Heroique." They demonstrate the pianist's range in Chopin interpretation, from the most quiet and serene pieces to the most bravura.

EMI recorded the Concerto in 1960 at Abbey Road Studio No. 1 and remastered it using Abbey Road Technology in 2001, releasing it at the time in their "Great Recordings of the Century" line. This newly released, 2010 edition in the "EMI Masters" series uses the same 2001 mastering, so if you already have it, you don't need to buy it again. For those of you new to it, I assure you it is a must buy.

The sound is remarkably strong, clear, robust, and dynamic for its age (or for any age). The piano sparkles, well focused and crisply defined. The orchestral support spreads out behind the piano like an extension of the solo instrument itself, with respectable transparency, air, or depth. EMI recorded the accompanying short pieces in Paris eight years later, again reproducing the sonics quite well, cleanly and warmly.

Should I also mention that this recording of the Concerto is about my absolute favorite recording of anything, anywhere, any time. It is perfect.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

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 (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa