Jean Alexis Smith

Chopin: The 21 Nocturnes

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This is a remarkably fine set of Chopin's Nocturnes. Young American pianist Jean Alexis Smith has a strong tone, a sensitive touch, and a supple technique, and there's nothing in Chopin's super virtuoso piano writing she can't handle, from the lightest arabesques at the end of the E flat major Nocturne to the heaviest octaves at the core of the C sharp minor Nocturne. Better yet, Smith is a first-class interpreter who finds the balance between the sensual, the soulful, and the spiritual in Chopin's super romantic music, and who can, whenever the music calls for it, instantly change from vivacious to serious or from seductive to sublime. But best of all, Smith is consistently surprising. One can never tell ahead of time how long she'll hold a pause, how fast she'll take a tempo, how hard she'll drive a rhythm. And yet, after the fact, each of Smith's interpretive decisions seems convincing, even inevitable, in the context of the music and the performance. Captured in distant yet atmospheric sound by producer Greg Bottini at Le Petit Trianon in San Jose, this two-disc set is well worth hearing by fans of the music and fans of great piano playing.

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