Brilliant Classics does it again
Michael Suh | 09/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For some unfathomable reason, pianists love to mutilate Chopin's music more than any other composer's in the piano repertoire. It almost seems like a parlor game to see who can come up with the most foreign interpretation. Tempos get warped, dynamics are modified, and an audience never hears 3/4 time get stretched in so many bizarre ways than listening to a Chopin Scherzo.
So, putting a complete Chopin edition together is a risky business. Brilliant Classics has put together a collection with some historically famous Chopin interpreters and filled in the rest with some no-name talent.
Because they picked the best of the vaults of lots of record companies, many of the recordings here are outstanding. All of the famous stuff -- the Ballades, the major Waltzes, the Nocturnes, etc. get red carpet treatment. There are a few issues. For some reason, some of the Mazurkas are played on a Pleyel piano, so it has a much boxier sound than modern pianos. I like the contrast of the salon-like sound from the Pleyel (Chopin himself preferred to perform on Pleyels), but one would think it would be an all-or-nothing thing -- why put only two discs on a period instrument? The Piano Sonatas are so-so here -- they're uneven because they're performed by 3 different pianists, all on the same disc. They're all competent, but one would hope for a consistent sound and style. I personally don't care much for the fuzzy 2nd Piano Sonata mono recording by Gilels from 1949, but I have others at home to make me happy.
The live performance of the Piano Concertos are winners -- they're not strong works to begin with and almost impossible to admire, but Kissin brings as much musical unity as can be found, even with the occasional cough from the audience. The Songs are quaint and more of a curiosity than of musical value. There are very few of Chopin's works that are truly "obscure," but they deserve to be that way; most of his Variations aren't very innovative, and the Polonaises and Waltzes can be ho-hum. The no-name talent does as well as anyone I can imagine trying to get through some of this stuff.
For the price, it can't be beat -- it's less than half the price of DG's, and just as good. The booklet included endlessly prattles about what a genius Chopin was, but still is quite informative once you sift through the fawning. It's really hard to go wrong with this set. Thanks, Brilliant Classics!"
Another triumph for Brilliant Classics
Michael Schell | www.schellsburg.com | 07/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the months of late 2006 and early 2007, rumors were abuzz of a new "complete" composer edition from Brilliant Classics, following on the heels of their renowned Bach and Mozart releases (and before the Beethoven and Brahms collections which appeared in late 2007 and early 2008 respectively). CD collectors went around trying to figure out whose birth or death anniversaries might fall in 2007. Then word came out that it would be a Romantic composer, and that the set would be 30 CDs. And so the aficionados tried to calculate whose 19th Century output might total approximate 30 hours.
It was a surprise to find out the composer in question was Chopin. Turns out that the initial release of Brilliant's "complete" set was in France and included an additional 13 CDs of historic recordings ("Pianists of the Golden Age"), and with a nice booklet of liner notes in French. The set sold here includes the first 17 CDs from that set: "modern" performances of the complete Chopin output, every last composition of which includes a piano part.
I concur with the Five Star assessment for this set. It's excellent value. As you would expect from Brilliant Classics, the material is a combination of rereleased material, often from well-known performers (Misha Dicter, Neville Marriner and the LSO put in cameo appearances), and more recent recordings done at Brilliant's behest by competent, lesser-known pianists. Among these latter are Alessandra Ammara performing some polonaises, Anna Haase and Lucuis Rühl doing the obscure Op. 74 Polish folk song settings (the only Chopin music for voice), and Marian Mika doing some mazurkas and a few miscellaneous pieces that Brilliant otherwise lacked. Of these performances, only the piano concertos were disappointing to me, suffering from bland orchestral sound (admittedly Chopin isn't much help here) and a muddy recording of what sound like live recordings (the liner notes don't say, but you can hear audience coughing). Usually the expensive-to-record orchestral works are the ones that suffer the most in these budget Brilliant sets. It just costs them too much to commission their own recordings of these works for multiple musicians, and they sometimes seem to look for the cheapest available performance they can find to relicense.
Nevertheless, considering the competition you're up against with any recordings of Chopin piano music, it's remarkable that this set holds up as well as it does with the warhorses: the famous solos works such as the sonatas, preludes, etudes, nocturnes, scherzos, ballades, waltzes, polonaises and mazurkas. Most of these, even the relicensed recordings, date from at least the late 1970s and have good recorded sound. One exception is the Second Piano Sonata, represented only by a "historical" 1949 recording by Sergio Fiorentino. I think you'll want to complement this by a modern recording by any one of number of pianists (Naxos has a cheap but good survey of all three Sonatas by Ýdil Biret). Adam Harasiewicz's nocturnes were recorded in the early 1960s, but have better recorded sound. Although most of the recordings use modern pianos, Cor de Groot's recordings of the mazurka uses an 1847 Pleyel instrument. It's very nice to have these to get a feel for what this music might have sounded like the way Chopin played it.
I don't think you'll regret many of these solo piano performances. I especially enjoyed Bella Davidovich doing the Op. 28 preludes, from a 1979 Decca recording. She manages to find both the structural intelligence of the individual preludes while creating a subtle but definite arch to the entire set, a difficult feat to pull off when traversing a 40 minute work made up of many short pieces. Davidovich is also on hand for the ballades and impromptus.
As you can gather from the above, or by perusing the track list, the works are presented by genre, with the waltzes presented on order on a single CD, the mazurkas in order across two CDs, and so on. This is understandable given the nature of this "complete" edition. However, with the exception of explicitly multi-movement works like the sonatas and perhaps the Op. 28 Preludes, you might not find this the ideal way to listen to Chopin. I found myself ripping these tracks to my computer and assembling custom playlists to let me traverse my favorite individual works in a more eclectic order. For me, this beats the rather numbing experience of hearing an hour's worth of mazurkas.
Bottom line: Probably few to none of these recordings will be "must have" if you already have a decent Chopin collection. But this is overall a worthy set with few obvious weak points, and is well worth the investment if you lack most of this music in another form. Buy and enjoy, and be glad Brilliant Classics has made it possible."
W. March | 09/23/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Glad to have all the works of Chopin available to listen to whenever.Only thing is the quality of both the recordings and the performances vary quite considerably.The music of Chopin definatley comes thru though and I like the booklet that comes with it.I'd have to say the best "recording" in this set is probably Bella Davidovich playing the preludes.It's all worth listening to;Turn your volume all the way up and listen to the first Etude as soon as you wake up."