Chopin: Life According to Chopin (CD review)

Chopin’s Greatest Piano Solos. Jeffrey Biegel, piano. GPR Records GPR10014.

Every artist appears to love some composer more than others. American pianist, composer, arranger, teacher, and Steinway artist Jeffrey Biegel seems to love Chopin. In this album, he seems absolutely to adore Chopin. According to the album title, he must live Chopin. Not that he can’t play other music just as well, as his many previous recordings like the most-recent Bach on a Steinway (2010), A Steinway Christmas Album (2011), and A Grand Romance (2013) attest. It’s just that he looks as though he has a special affinity for Chopin and communicates an extra-special joy in communicating the man’s tunes. Thus, it’s a treat to find some of Mr. Biegel’s favorite Chopin in the 2014 release Life According to Chopin.

Interestingly, according to a booklet note, “Until the age of three, Mr. Biegel could neither hear nor speak until corrected by surgery. The ‘reverse Beethoven’ phenomenon can explain Mr. Biegel’s life in music, having heard only vibrations in his formative years.” What’s more, Mr. Biegel has filled his life with personal innovation. For instance, he “initiated the first live Internet recitals in New York and Amsterdam in 1997 and 1998, and, in 1999, assembled the largest consortium of orchestras (over 25) to celebrate the millennium with a new concerto composed for him.”

So, yes, Mr. Biegel is an artist of immense talent, boundless creativity, and high repute. It’s hard not to like his Chopin performances, even for someone like me who for years never thought he’d find anyone he’d like as well as the Chopin interpreters he grew up with: Rubinstein first, then Cliburn, Pollini, Ashkenazy, and others. Yet Biegel takes his place alongside them, doing Chopin proud.

Mr. Biegel begins the program with the Waltz in D-flat, Op. 64, No. 1, the “Minute” waltz that he says “every young pianist MUST play.” Well, he’s not a young pianist anymore, but I’m glad he played it. Even though you may have heard it a hundred times, Biegel makes it come alive, fresh and new, with his lilting manner and gentle phrasing. With him it’s not just another lickety-split, look at how masterly a pianist I am; it’s a surprisingly amiable, lyrical piece that soars. Like all of Biegel’s Chopin, it shows us an artist at the service of a composer’s music rather than an artist using a composer’s music merely to show off his virtuosity.

And so it goes through a dozen selections and over seventy minutes of music. Here, I couldn't help pick favorites among Biegel's favorites. The Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2, for example, is dazzling in both its technical showmanship and its graceful, rhapsodic beauty. The Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60 ebbs and flows wonderfully from one tonal region to another. The Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2 is as light, sheer, and gossamer as any reading you'll find as Biegel plays it in this transcription by Theodor Leschitezky. I could go on, and as you can guess, I probably will. I love every track on this disc.

Biegel produces music with passion and soul, never distorting the notes but adding an intimate touch of joy and expressiveness to them. One listen to the Andante Spianato, Op. 22 gives you an idea of what I mean; it's conveys real inspiration and feeling in every phrase. It's delightful in its smooth, fluent motion and ever-changing line. Then, the familiar Fantasie-Impromptu No. 4 in C-sharp minor, Op. 66 ("I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" was the pop-song treatment) is never flashy but glides along rhythmically, effortlessly, stylishly, producing an uncanny sensation of improvisation with precision.

If you like Mr. Biegel's piano playing, if you like Chopin, heck, if you just like music, you cannot go wrong with this album. And it helps that it sounds so good.

Recorded at Patrych Sound Studios, New York, in 2013 by producer Joe Patrych, Biegel’s Chopin album sounds as good as anything he’s done. Like most good piano recordings, this one sounds rich,  warm, resonant, and very, very clean, with virtually no distortion, brightness, hardness, edginess, dryness, or anything else to distract one from the music. It's quite realistic, with its clear, solid transient impact and natural, lifelike acoustic setting.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa