Academic journal article ARSC Journal

A Century of Romantic Chopin

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

A Century of Romantic Chopin

Article excerpt

A Century of Romantic Chopin. Marston 54001-2 (4 CDs).

Masters of Chopin: Friedman, Tiegerman, Eisenberger. Arbiter 158 (4 CDs; Disc 4 doubles as a CD-ROM).

The Complete Raoul von Koczalski, Vol. 1: Polydor Recordings, 1924-1928. Marston 52063-2 (2 CDs).

Frederic Chopin's bicentennial year of 2010 witnessed the release of numerous recorded collections of his works, but for connoisseurs of historical recordings, Marston's A Century of Romantic Chopin is by far the most entertaining and stimulating of the lot. It really does contain recordings made over the course of (more than) a century, from Paul Pabst in 1895 (two recordings from the set of Block cylinders I reviewed in these pages[ARSC Journal, 2010;41[2]:323328]), to Francesco Libetta in the D-flat major Nocturne at a public recital in 2003. The recordings chosen represent every one of the twelve decades in this span, although Marston devotes greatest attention to the period 1925-1960 (i.e., electrical 78s through the mono LP era). Sixty-five pianists perform in the course of the ninety tracks on these four very full CDs; eighty-four pieces or movements from Chopin's output appear, including a few in duplicate versions (in order to demonstrate different textual variants or arrangements, or so that a version in primitive sound can also be heard in a version with more tonal allure). Anyone doing the math will realize that some of these pianists must be responsible for several of the recordings included, and indeed, apart from Mischa Levitzki (represented by his 1929 HMV side containing the C major, A major, and F major Preludes--the first and last played twice each) and Guiomar Novaes (heard in a selection of seven preludes from a 1966 New York recital), whose contributions are heard in sequence, there are a number of "heroes"--most notably Moritz Rosenthal and Ignaz Friedman (four recordings each), and Artur Rubinstein, Alfred Cortot, and Rosita Renard (three times each). My guess is that Renard might not have appeared this much had her famous live 1949 New York recital not included some of the less often performed Etudes, which is the only genre in Chopin's output that Marston includes in its entirety.

Since none of Chopin's other genres appears complete, not even such small, seminal groups as the Scherzi (the fourth is missing) or the Ballades (we hear only the first and fourth), it seems pointless to complain about which works are or are not included. Evaluating this set will more profitably consider the implications of the title: what is--or what do the compilers of this set take to be--"romantic Chopin?" The subtext for the use of this phrase, when linked with a set containing a high percentage of recordings from the early-mid 20th century, suggests that the compilers think there are worthwhile features of Chopin's music that most contemporary performances of his music do not reveal. This nostalgic attitude toward a past through which most of us have not lived has both adherents and critics--and as someone who finds both things to admire and things to criticize in Chopin recordings of any era, I'm not moved in principle by these appeals to the obvious superiority of the past. Nevertheless, in considering the recordings in this set as a unit, I propose that there are several ways in which many of them demonstrate some admixture or another of traits that would be less pronounced if one undertook a survey of Chopin playing from around 2000. These traits can be listed singly, and sometimes I will isolate them in characterizing performances in the discussion that follows, but it must be understood that it is their combination that results in a "romantic" style. And there is clearly no single "romantic" style. The approaches taken by each pianist represented here can be vastly different; any definition of a "romantic" style that sees such pianists as Solomon, Arrau, or Karl Ulrich Schnabel as among its exemplars alongside the likes of Pachmann, Horowitz, and Earl Wild must be a fairly loose one. …

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