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.

JJP

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

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa