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Chopin: Scherzi, Fantasie-Impromptu - Leonskaja

Chopin: Scherzi, Fantasie-Impromptu - Leonskaja

MDG Gold  943 1558-6

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Chopin: Fantaisie Impromptu Op. 66, Scherzo Opp. 20, 31, 39 & 54, Nocturne Opp. 48/2, 15/2, 48/1, 27/2

Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano)


Fascinating Milestone
After Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Schubert, now Chopin: it is always fascinating how Elisabeth Leonskaja on her MDG recordings enables us to experience masterpieces of the piano literature in new ways. Here the pianist presents scherzos and nocturnes by the great Polish composer with inimitable intensity on a Steinway grand piano from 1901 and wins from it incredible sound cascades with which she sets yet another milestone in her superb career.

Epochal – and More
Frédéric Chopin has always had many admirers. Franz Liszt once called him “epoch-making, bold, dazzling, and enchanting.“ This judgment applies in special measure to Chopin’s highly virtuosic scherzos. With these four pieces composed between 1831 and 1843 he ventured onto terrain that had never been explored before in this form.

She has it all!
Elisabeth Leonskaja rises to these challenges with bravura. Combining a brilliant touch with joy in the subtlety of the melodies, she reveals a captivating wealth of keyboard nuances. Wild forte outbursts, for example, are convincingly integrated into the overall process. Along with her special flair for the delightfulness of pearly passages, she has the energy for the necessary motoric drive.

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Review by John Broggio - June 23, 2009

A wonderful disc ruined by what can only be described as about 15 seconds of digital "print-through" - more of this later.

Containing many of the most famous and popular Nocturnes, these judiciously frame and intersperse the main compositions on display here, the four Scherzi and the Fantaisie-Impromptu. All are played with the knowing wisdom of a grand master musician who has lived with these works for a lifetime yet incredibly they also display a high degree of fantasy and freedom which, although for a recording seems impossible, works even on repeated listening.

In the Nocturnes and the Fantasie-Impromptu, Leonskaja brings a calm and a solemnity to the music without underplaying the darker elements and she obtains a rich sound from the 1901 Steinway which in some ways sounds a little like the period pianos employed in MDG's series of Brahms' piano music (Brahms: Complete Piano Music, Vol 1 - Hardy Rittner and Brahms: Complete Piano Music, Vol 2 - Rittner). The Scherzi are more contrasted with skittish fast music framing more reflective episodes and Leonskaja is fully responsive to all these frequent and vast changes in style. There is a sense of joy in the playing that comes across and is fully appreciated by this listener and at the same time there is a recognition of the form of the music that comes only from an experienced practitioner.

The Scherzi are played in the order 1, 3, 4, 2 and it is in the Scherzo No. 2 that the "print-through" occurs. In the build up to the first of many climaxes at around 1'12 - 1'30 there is a distinct echo effect that occurs nowhere else in the entire disc. I have checked all three layers and it is present in all of them and it is not at all pleasant on repeated listening. This basic error could and should have been picked up and corrected before mass-production and distribution.

Sadly, unless it is reprinted, it cannot currently be recommended. If the "print-through" issue is resolved, it would be one of my favourite recital discs of Chopin.

Copyright © 2009 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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2+2+2 recording