Howard Shelley

Chopin: Sonaty

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The Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw has issued a variety of Chopin works played on historically appropriate instruments, typically Parisian pianos of the 1840s; the present album is one of that series. Inasmuch as Chopin's music is integral to listeners' perceptions of the sound world of the modern grand piano, it takes a little bit of retuning of the ears to enjoy these performances. There are certainly moments where you suspect Chopin would have been overjoyed with the power of a later piano. But these are genuinely fresh interpretations of Chopin. Start with the famed slow movement of the Sonata No. 2 in B minor, Op. 35 (track 7), where the booming chords of famed funeral march are absent. What's in their place is a unique somberness and a real sense of mystery when the major-key second theme unexpectedly emerges. Shelley inexplicably uses an 1848 Pleyel piano for only the second and fourth movements of this sonata; for the rest of the music he plays an 1849 Erard instrument, and it's really very subtle in the slow movements of all three sonatas. An added attraction here is the presence of Chopin's fairly rare Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 4, written in Warsaw in 1827 and 1828 while he was still studying composition. It's sort of a mix of Hummel's style and flashes of daring ideas reflecting the Chopin that was to come: irregular meters, hanging dissonances, and hints of the mazurka rhythm in the second-movement minuet, among others. Chopin apparently had an ambivalent attitude toward this work, refusing to let it be republished but also declining to burn it when he disposed of a collection of juvenilia. Shelley makes a good case for its inclusion in mainstream repertory, and the entire disc will be a good conversation starter for Chopin fans.

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