Released by the little-known Texas label Zephyr Records, with minimal attention to graphic design, this release, part of a complete Chopin cycle by British-born pianist and conductor Ian Hobson, is well worth the Chopin enthusiast's time. This album was recorded in the studios of Polish Radio in 2004, and the engineering is way ahead of the graphics. Hobson's cycle is chronological, and the "High Society" subtitle of this release denotes the point in his career, in the first few years of the 1830s, when Chopin was the toast of musical Paris. The chronological approach necessarily involves a mixture of famous pieces like the Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17/4, and the almost-unheard Introduction and variations brillantes on "Je vends des scapulaires," Op. 12, a work showing that Chopin could do the potboiler operatic hit language as well as other composers, even if he soon abandoned it. Hobson's intent is to put the listener inside Chopin's mind as he offered various kinds of material to the Parisian public, and his interpretations, if a bit unorthodox, are full of interesting details. He tends to take quick, urgent tempos and carve distinctive features of the music out of them. Sample the final Andante spianato and Grande polonaise brillante in E flat major, Op. 22, for the full effect: perhaps the best of Chopin's early works, this piece shows the composer not quite fully in possession of his style but encountering it at every corner, and Hobson captures its elegant but somehow abrupt genius. This is not the usual Romantic Chopin, but it's highly recommended for Chopin enthusiasts.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Four Mazurkas, Op. 17|