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Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 3, Liszt: Piano Sonata - Colom

Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 3, Liszt: Piano Sonata - Colom

Eudora Records  EUD-SACD-2002

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 3, Nocturnes Op. 62
Liszt: Piano Sonata, Unstern! Sinistre

Josep Colom, piano


Josep Colom brings out a fresh and poetic view on two of peaks of the piano repertoire: Chopin and Liszt B minor Piano Sonatas. Heroic writing alternate with Italianate lyricism in Chopin’s Op. 58, while Liszt only piano sonata is one of the greatest achievements in its genre, if not the greatest of all. Chopin’s Nocturnes Op. 62 and Liszt’s late work Unstern! – Sinistre are also included in this stunning album, passionately performed by one of the most distinguished pianists of his generation.

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - May 31, 2020

Liszt and Chopin were contemporaries, both acclaimed pianists, but quite different in character. Liszt: Flamboyant, virtuoso, cosmopolite, spiritually enigmatic; Chopin: Genteel, nostalgic dreamer, who preferred ‘Les Salons Parisiens’ rather than the concert hall. Liszt liked Berlioz’s music, Chopin did not. Liszt admired Wagner. Chopin adored Rossini. Though respecting one another, both represented different styles. Chopin’s piano concerti are a world apart from those of Liszt. Moreover, Liszt’s compositional style progressed to the point where his final works tended towards using atonal elements, whereas many held and still hold against Chopin that his style remained the same throughout his entire career.

Except for his Beethoven recording (EUD-SACD-1901), Josep Colom experimented in previous Eudora releases by juxtaposing two composers of which he though had things in common (confluences and cross-references), Like Bach - Chopin, and Mozart - Chopin. Question is, does he follow the same pattern, searching for a common denominator between Liszt and Chopin? Other than both sonatas, Chopin’s third and Liszt’s S 178, being in the same the key of B minor, there is no reference in the liner notes to that effect. However, a possible link may be found in that Chopin’s final sonata is “.. one of the finest examples of Chopin’s treatment of large-scale form”, just like Liszt’s only sonata is described in the notes as: “.. one of the greatest achievements in its genre”, or, in other words, both composers having reached the summit of the sonata form, showing equal ability to control all pianistic implications it entails.

More important than my hypothesis is, of course, the way Colom handles the music, sitting behind a 1957 Model D Steinway & Sons concert grand in the fine acoustics of the Mozart Hall of the Auditorio de Zaragoza, surrounded by a no doubt careful, on the photo in the booklet invisible, microphone set-up complying with the high sonic quality Eudora Records is famous for.

From previous recordings we know what a versatile pianist Colom is, switching here, too, from one style (Chopin’s) to another (Liszt’s) with apparent ease. But musical emotion cannot bloom without mastering technical hurdles to perfection. With Colom one isn’t even aware of such hurdles. He doesn’t seek to impress for the sake of it. Comparing his reading with the many other existing recordings on SACD, we ought to take into account that in either of the sonatas there isn’t a clear, single way it should be played. It is known that Chopin allowed himself much freedom and with Liszt much depends on what the interpreter believes what his intentions behind the score were and, consequently, how to convey it.

I belong to those who believe that Chopin is first and foremost a composer of beauty and charm; not of force. In my view, the keys need to be touched, not banged. Even in the Étude Op. 10, No. 12 in C minor, ‘Revolutionary’, the ‘con fuoco’ should come from the fingers and not from the fists. It’s all a matter of taste and appreciation, and the DGG recording with Pollini is for me still the standard, but I was nonetheless pleased to hear that Colom shows maturity and luminous vision. He clearly feels that he doesn’t have to prove anything. He takes the first movement like a ‘ballad’, contemplating the rural scenery, realizing that at the time of composing Chopin lived with George Sand at her country house in Nohant-Vic, a small village hidden in the French countryside. Of course, the sonata does at times demand a large degree of audacity and virtuosity, but within the limits of the “distinctive romantic sound, (and) delicate touch” of Chopin’s favourite Pleyel. Moreover, Colom carefully observes Chopin’s marking of final movement: Presto, but with the addition ‘non tanto’. All in all a well-balanced reading that should appeal to many listeners.

This is the fourth time I’m reviewing Liszt’s monumental sonata, and each time I find something new to admire. Numerous stories about Liszt’s intentions circulate and none of them can be taken as being correct because the composer himself never gave any indication. It follows that many different readings exist. One of the most comprehensive and very well documented is Alfred Brendel’s 1977 account (Philips). But of late I came across several quite remarkable interpretations from today’s younger generation, and all are different.

As I said, there is no standard way of playing this monumental Sonata. It is a work of art having a multi-faceted way of looking at it. The first building blocks are pretty much the same in each of the notable accounts, but from thereon each builds its own statue, carefully sculpting the score into comprehensive completeness. Not an easy task. Where Brendel looks at the darker, emotionally deeper laden side, with an almost menacing ‘Allegro energico’, Colom is more articulate and structural, avoiding excesses in search of positive aspects. His ‘Andante’ is romantically careful, almost hesitant, but without losing momentum. Summing it up: He deviates from the typical Central- and Eastern-European approach, masterly building his monument with polished marble from the Mediterranean.

Of both Sonatas, Josep Colom brings well-considered, personal views in the ring, making choices even more difficult. To complete the recital, two Chopin Nocturnes and a sinister Liszt piece were added, making the total duration an unbelievable 82:30, i.e. two and a half minutes beyond the official limit of an SACD. It will suit all those complaining about frugal disc management!

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2020 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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