Bernard D'Ascoli

Chopin: Complete Scherzi and Impromptus

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Chopin: Complete Scherzi and Impromptus Review

by James Leonard

For pianist Bernard d'Ascoli, blind since birth, there is no distance between himself and the music. While sighted pianists inevitably have the score mediating between them and the music, d'Ascoli takes in the music directly as sound and reproduces it directly as sound. This unity of apprehension and execution as two sides of the same process gives d'Ascoli's playing a clarity and purity that most trained musicians intrinsically lack. Thus, although his virtuosity is not only astounding in and of itself, it is merely the conduit through which the music passes, transformed from sound to sound by d'Ascoli's heart and soul.

In this disc of Chopin's Scherzi and Impromptus, d'Ascoli's performances are as thrilling as Horowitz's and as refined as Rubinstein's, but, unlike with Horowitz, one never gets the sense that d'Ascoli is intent on proving his technique, and, unlike with Rubinstein, one never gets the sense that d'Ascoli is determined to demonstrate his tone. While the listener is left gasping at d'Ascoli's virtuosity in the Scherzi and dazzled by d'Ascoli's dexterity in the Impromptus, the overwhelming impression is of d'Ascoli's soulfulness and faithfulness, of his honesty to the music as music and not as a means of self-aggrandizement. One might wish his passage work were cleaner in the Scherzi or that his pedaling was cleaner in the Impromptus, but, in the final analysis, one would not want to sacrifice any of the pellucid beauty of d'Ascoli's performances for more polished but less affecting playing. Athene-Minerva's sound is warm but a bit distant, clear but a bit clouded at climaxes.

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