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Chopin: Piano Concertos 1 & 2 - Nakamichi, Arita

Chopin: Piano Concertos 1 & 2 - Nakamichi, Arita

Denon  COGQ-49

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11, Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21

Ikuyo Nakamichi (piano)
Classical Players Tokyo
Masahiro Arita (conductor)

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - June 25, 2012

At the end of last century Japanese pianists surprised many music lovers with their technical skills, winning important prizes at international contests. Ikuyo Nakamichi was one of them. After winning the 1986 Mendelssohn contest in Berlin, she felt ready to participate the following year in the prestigious Concours Reine Elisabeth in Brussels, finishing 5th of the six prize named laureates. This is not a bad result. Differences are usually small. (In 1968 Mitsuko Uchida finished 10th, and what a carrier she has made!). But, as usual: The proof of the pudding is in the eating; the most important part being what follows next. For all sorts of reasons, many have never really made it.

In Nakamichi’s case: numerous concerts and a contract with BMG Japan (RCA Red Seal) for whom she recorded no less than 7 Chopin disks. Amongst these, the 1st and 2nd piano concerto with the Polish National Orchestra under the Polish conductor Kazimierz Kord. One might say that as far as Chopin is concerned her credentials seem well established.

She now brings us, together with Masahiro Arita and his Classical Players Tokyo on authentic instruments, the same two concertos, but this time playing an original Pleyel built in 1841. Indeed, the same instrument Chopin preferred.

This is in many aspects a remarkable disk.

As the liner notes and much of the other information is in Japanese, it took me some time to work out details about the recording. Not that it really matters, as it makes no difference as to the musical content. But one likes to know all the same. It looks like a bit of a mix-up. Aliare is (or maybe was?) Denon’s label for authentic performance recordings. The producers are Nippon Columbia (as we know, no relation with Columbia USA) and Nakamichi was on ‘loan’ from Sony Music Japan. For a special purpose: The recording was made in the Tokyo Metropolitan Arts Space as a tribute to the Chopin Bi-Centennial in 2010 and the collaboration between Nakamichi and Arita was seen as a kind of novelty.

Masahiro Arita is not only an authentic instrument specialist, with notably an important collection flutes of all sorts, he also is an accomplished flute player with a diploma from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, Belgium, where he studied flauto traverso under Barthold Kuijken, and a soloist diploma with supreme honours obtained at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague, The Netherlands. In 1989 he founded the Tokyo Bach-Mozart Orchestra. And as he, like other specialists in this field, wanted to move further afield, remodeled them, in 2009, as the first Japanese original instruments group focused on Romantic music under the name "Classical Players Tokyo".

How does the musical result of this ad hoc collaboration sound? The 1841 Pleyel is, of course, not as smooth and powerful as a modern concert grand. It has its (mechanical) limitations. Especially as far as fast passage work is concerned. And there is also the balance between the orchestra and the piano to consider. It created a new framework and both artists have worked hard to bring this successfully about.

In view of the fact that Chopin composed for this instrument (he also played a Gerard whenever he needed more power) the limitations of the instrument should not pose too much of a problem for an accomplished player like Ikuyo Nakamichi. And, indeed, it didn’t. She plays with verve and ‘souplesse’ with, for some, maybe a bit too much rubato, but nonetheless in a typical ‘Chopinesque’ manner and style.

As can be seen from the photo in the booklet, Arita uses one hundred per cent authentic instruments or exact copies thereof. This means that the sound is a bit rough and with the typical tonal quality it entails. Especially in the brass. Another noteworthy element consists of the balance between the instruments. I noticed things which would otherwise have disappeared in the more massive sound from large modern violin sections as employed by the big symphony orchestras. Listen to the horns at the beginning of the final movement of the second piano concerto. True, it requires some adjustment. But in the end its charm is undeniable.

The piano gets the usual, preferential treatment. But on the whole the orchestra sounds a lot less recessed than in other recordings. In fact, and in spite of its relatively small size, it sounds from time to time even a bit overpowering. This is, to my mind, not altogether a bad thing. It adds a great deal to the impact, the overall excitement and, in the final analysis, to an uplifting listening pleasure. For me this disk is best described as ‘love at second sight’.

A careful recommendation is, therefore, merited, and not only for those who like to listen to a sincere authentic approach.

NOTE: Nakamichi’s Beethoven concerti, with Paavo Järvi and the Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, have received positive comments on this site, and rightly so (I know some of these excellent recordings through the internet, as these disks, apparently reserved for the Japanese market, are rather expensive in my part of the world) and with reference to my remarks on the Beethoven cycle of Mari Kodama I would like to add that she (Nakamichi), too, produced over a period of 4 years a complete cycle (talking about tempi: 11 CD’s against 8 for the young Korean HJ Lim!), which have been well received by the Japanese press.

The disk is adequately recorded in 24 bits, four channel surround only.

Copyright © 2012 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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