Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Distinguished Recording

Among the many recordings of Chopin’s two piano concerti, there are a few favourites that I keep returning to. As a teenager, I loved (and still do) Arthur Rubinstein’s 1961 account of the first concerto with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the New Symphony of London. Soviet pianist Emil Gilels’s recording of the same work with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra is another that I have a soft spot for. In 2006, the Altara label released a stunning life recording of Mr. Rubinstein playing the second concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic and Witold Rowicki. To my ears, this life performance towers above all of Mr. Rubinstein’s other distinguished recordings of this concerto – and that, I think, is saying a lot. I am pleased to say that now there is another distinguished addition to the catalogue of Chopin concerti recordings.

I had been eagerly awaiting pianist Ingrid Fliter’s recording of the Chopin concerti for LINN Records (a company more known for their audio equipment), and she certainly does not disappoint. I have always believed that there are pianists who play Chopin, and then there are artists who are Chopin players. Fliter clearly belongs to the latter (much smaller) group.

Chopin filled the scores of both concerti with numerous expressive markings. To my ears, Fliter had really carefully studied and managed to successfully realize the composer’s explicit instructions on how every detail should be played. More importantly, she did not fall into the trap of making the music sound like a series of beautiful episodes. Each movement within each concerto sounds like an organic whole.,

Fliter’s partners in the recording, conductor Jun Märkl and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra did a remarkable job of bringing out the beauty of the orchestral writing. We must thank this conductor for treating the orchestral writing, so underrated by many conductors and musicologists, with the love and devotion it deserves. In both works, Chopin writes especially lovingly and sensitively for the wind instruments, and this is evident in the playing of the members of the orchestra. The LINN engineers did a remarkable job in capturing the sound of both the orchestra and piano.

The playing by Fliter in these concerti is meltingly beautiful. In the slow movements of both works, there is palpably a feeling of hushed eloquence. I must confess that although the performance of the first concerto is outstanding, Fliter’s playing of the second concerto is spellbinding and magical in every respect, from first note to last. I feel that Fliter realizes Chopin’s instruction for the beginning of the third movement - semplice ma graziosamente - to perfection.

I am guessing that Ingrid Fliter’s association with LINN Records is a result of EMI’s (her former recording company) absorption by Warner Classics. Well, EMI’s loss is LINN’s gain, and lovers of the Chopin concerti should immediately run out and purchase this wonderful recording. I am already looking forward to the pianist’s impending recording of Chopin’s Preludes, Op. 28. 

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