Aleck Karis

Late Piano Music of Frédéric Chopin

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Did Frédéric Chopin have a "late style" like the other composers adduced here as examples by American pianist Aleck Karis? He names Beethoven (definitely), Bach (who certainly achieved a depth of mastery over his musical materials that listeners are still trying to plumb), and Mozart (perhaps; he wasn't planning on dying young, but his encounter with Bach and Handel in his later years had far-reaching effects). Karis concedes that there's no general recognition of "late Chopin," but contends that during the years before Chopin's death from tuberculosis in 1849 he "looks back to earlier masters with a heightened attention to counterpoint, while breaking new ground harmonically." Does Karis' program support these contentions? There is intermittent evidence for saying yes; the canon in the last part of the Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 63/3, would be unusual in Chopin's works of the 1830s, and the Berceuse, Op. 57 (composed in 1844, when Chopin wouldn't have been planning on any "late style"), is an undeniably ingenious combination of the simplicity of a cradle song with a unique harmonic conception. Other works, however, are neither especially contrapuntal nor daring harmonically; there is nothing here to match the Prelude in E minor, Op. 28/4. As a collection of Chopin pieces that includes both favorites (the Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64/1, or "Minute Waltz," which fits neither of the pianist's criteria) and lesser-known pieces this could work, except that Karis, whose specialty is contemporary music, is rather wooden as a Chopin pianist. As it is, the disc will be of the most interest to those making a close study of the development of Chopin's style.

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