Eldar Nebolsin / Antoni Wit / Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra

Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1; Fantasia on Polish Airs; Krakowiak

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Chopin's two piano concertos are almost always paired with each other on recordings, but this Naxos release, with Uzbek-born pianist Eldar Nebolsin and the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit, offers a more inventive and even more illuminating program of early Chopin pieces. The Fantasia on Polish Airs, Op. 13, actually predated the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, and it's quite rarely performed. In this context it's a gem, showing something of the milieu from which Chopin's individual style emerged while he was still in Poland. It is suffused with national melodic flavors and rhythms, and one of the themes is not by Chopin at all but by Warsaw Opera conductor Karol Kurpinski. The work lacks the characteristic chromaticism of Chopin's later music, but unmistakably shows his bent toward profound pianistic elaboration of essentially light genres. Here and in the Piano Concerto No. 1 pianist Nebolsin achieves distinctive performances, with a lyrical, slightly languid tone that fits both pieces beautifully. He turns on the power (which he displayed in abundance on an earlier Liszt release) in the second subject of the concerto's first movement, in the final "Kujawiak" movement of the Fantasia on Polish Airs, and on the concluding Krakowiak, Grand Rondeau de Concert, Op. 14, a work that captures as well as any other the moment at which Chopin broke through to international stardom. Definitely worth adding to a well-stocked Chopin shelf. The recording is billed as the first "to use the new Polish National Chopin Edition," although the booklet notes (in English only) don't discuss which pieces that applies to and what the main import might be.

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