Various Artists

Chopin: His Contemporaries and His Instruments

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To appreciate Brilliant's 2010 box set, Chopin: His Contemporaries and His Instruments, one must have more than a passing curiosity about the composer. Rather, one should have a serious interest in the history of keyboard music of the early 19th century, in addition to an awareness of Chopin's circle of friends and associates. In other words, this is a set for the connoisseur who wishes to delve into the influences and instruments around Chopin, and it is perhaps too much for the casual listener who is only looking for his greatest hits. Keyboard works of early Romantic composers are included, along with recordings of Chopin's complete nocturnes, so the selections give the listener an excellent impression of the piano music of the time, though not a broad sampling of Chopin's forms and styles, for many of his most popular pieces are not included. The vintage pianos, dating from 1823 to 1858, give a clear idea of the sonorities that were available, though the instruments made by Broadwood, Tröndlin, and Graf have a somewhat thinner, tinnier quality than those manufactured by Pleyel and Érard, which are closer to the character of modern pianos. The roster of artists is dominated by Bart van Oort, whose four discs of nocturnes by Chopin and John Field give the most coherent presentation of instruments, though the remaining two discs offer worthwhile examples of Chopin's mazurkas and early pieces, along with music by Franz Liszt, Carl Maria von Weber, and Charles-Valentin Alkan, played in tasteful period style by Constantino Mastroprimiano, Cor de Groot, Jan Vermeulen, Stanley Hoogland, and Fred Oldenburg.

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