Avi-Music draws from a tape made for the WDR in Cologne to provide South Indian-born German pianist Sheila Arnold's interesting interpretation of two of Chopin's Ballades and his set of Preludes, Op. 28, on an 1839 Érard, exactly the kind of piano Chopin himself often played in concert appearances. Compared to a modern Steinway, this piano has a sotto voce tone with a quick decay, although in rapid passages, such as in the Prelude No. 3, "Vivace," it has a lovely kind of singing, sustaining sound in the passagework that you wouldn't get on a modern grand. Some 18th century pianos similar to these can still be heard on early recordings of pianists, and it is revelatory to hear such an instrument in the fully distinct and responsive digital WDR recording. Arnold's playing is certainly compatible with the Érard. She does not linger and makes only minimal use of tempo rubato; in faster passages she is dazzling, at times almost blinding. In more reflective and moody pieces, however, some might find the crisp attack of the Érard as having a dearth of expressive resources compared to a modern instrument, though that could well depend on what the experience with Chopin of a given listener happens to be. Nevertheless, the 1839 Érard is an instrument that has unquestionable authority in representing what Chopin's music sounded like under his own fingers, though Chopin is known to have expressed misgivings both about the pianos of his time and of his own playing. Arnold's interpretation of this music is well studied and she executes it very cleanly, though the tone of the interpretation is a little cold even beyond the sound of the special, historic piano that she's playing.
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AllMusic Review by Uncle Dave Lewis
|24 Préludes, Op. 28|