Traditionalists may rue the day, but the historical performance movement has come to Chopin, and it's clear it has a lot to offer in this release by Argentine pianist Nelson Goerner and the veteran Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century under Frans Brüggen. Goerner plays an 1849 Erard instrument, some 20 years younger than the music of the youthful Chopin that's on the program, but arguably representative of a sound ideal he would have had in his head. It's quite a different sound from a modern grand: percussive, crisp, with comparatively less sustain. It's very easy to imagine this combination of instruments in the rooms -- not vast concert halls -- where Chopin's music was first heard by its Polish and then French admirers. Goerner combines the early piano with an interpretation that resolutely excludes sentimentality and drama; tempo rubato is certainly present but is used sparingly, and the player makes his presence felt mostly by emphasizing structural surprises with the piano's briskly percussive quality. The program includes all of the pieces for piano and orchestra from the end of Chopin's Polish period and his first years in Paris, except for the two piano concertos. The music is thus mostly oriented toward brilliant display, with the Rondo à la Krakowiak in F major, Op. 14, and the Variations in B flat on Mozart's Là ci darem la mano, Op. 2, at the center of the program. You might think you'd miss the power of the modern piano in music like this, but Goerner delivers an almost tactile sense of the music's textures, with an edgy brilliance standing in for the power. The slower music has a marvelous air of charm and mystery, and this recording captures the star quality of the young Chopin in an indefinable way. Superior sound from the Witold Lutoslawski studio at Polish radio underscores the intimate dimensions of the performance. Notes are in Polish and the mysteriously abstract English that sometimes appears in translations from that language. This disc marks a small milestone in the Polish recording industry's observance of the Chopin bicentennial.
Chopin: Works for Piano and Orchestra Review
by James Manheim