Classical CD Reviews

CHOPIN: Journal Intime = Mazurkas, Ballades, Nocturnes, Fantasie, etc. – Alexandre Tharaud, piano – Virgin Classics

The entirely natural piano sound only enhances an already illuminated conception.

Published on January 22, 2010

CHOPIN: Journal Intime = Mazurkas, Ballades, Nocturnes, Fantasie, etc. – Alexandre Tharaud, piano – Virgin Classics

CHOPIN: Journal Intime = Mazurka in C-sharp Minor, Op. 63, No. 3; Mazurka in E Minor, Op. 17, No. 2; Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No 4; Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 68, No. 2; Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 7, No. 2; Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23; Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38; Fantasie in F Minor, Op. 49; Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Op. Posth.; Largo in C Minor; Trois Ecossaises, Op. 72, No. 3; Contredanse in B-flat Major; Fantasie-Impromptu in C-sharp Minor, Op. 66; Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 – Alexandre Tharaud, piano – Virgin Classics 50999 68555862 5, 64:07 **** [Distr. by EMI]:


Youthful pianist Alexandre Tharaud plays a particularly bright Steinway for this 2009 recital of Chopin, the program selected for its reminding him “of certain rather private matters in my life, of people or friends I have loved or friends I have lost.” Even the opening piece, the C-sharp Minor Mazurka of 1846, involves a degree of loss, having been composed at Nohant on the eve of Chopin’s estrangement from George Sand.

Tharaud attacks the 1835 G Minor Ballade with a bold vigor and good sense of the Neapolitan color in this fiery work, a strong elastic line, and a shimmering patina. Tharaud says of his  own approach that he “pounced” on the work, and that well describes the tempestuous fury he unleashes in its middle section, the stretti vertically inclined and brilliantly resonant. The huge gesture at the end, both declamatory and furioso, carries us away with its unbridled passion. The kujawiak form of mazurka communicates the most angst and Romantic agony in Chopin’s oeuvre, so the Op. 17, No. 2 from Paris tells us of heartache and heimweh. The chromatics of Op. 17, No. 4 aurally convey a ghost world we see in visual artists Munch and Moreau. The A Minor, Op. 68, No. 2 (1827) uses the augmented fourth as a source of its unnerving modal power. The Op. 7, No. 2 appears symmetrical until the discordances appear in the second section, a melancholy acknowledgement of Poland’s national strife of 1830.

Certainly Adrian Brody’s performance in the film The Pianist has popularized the posthumous (1830) Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, whose several references to the F Minor Concerto and the Polish song “The Wish” bespeak Chopin’s tragic love affair of the period. Tharaud plays it with arched, fluent passion. The perennial 1831 Nocturne in E-flat Major remains the exquisitely vocal contribution to keyboard rhetoric, all bells, chimes, and plaintive noels. The Fantasie-Impromptu (1834) has been a Tharaud staple since his early youth, and he exploits its virtuosic conflict of four against three in billows and undulant waves. The middle section melts into liquid caresses and sighs, a touch of mystery.  The Ballade No. 2 (1839) allows Tharaud the poetic muse, especially as the water-nymph tale involves the ondine’s seduction of  a mortal and his stormy descent into the depths of the sea. The huge deep trill before the frenzied stretti is well made. Speculation has it that the Largo in C Minor was conceived in 1838 as an homage to Polish prayers and patriotic chants, with rolling arpeggios. The Three Ecossaise (1830) enjoy the “Scotch snap” that Mendelssohn employs in his A Minor Symphony.  The D-flat has a music-box sonority that quite beguiles the ear. The Contredanse (1827) seems to condense ballade and mazurka into a unit that Beethoven would likely have called a bagatelle, except the sweetness belongs to Chopin.

Finally, Tharaud’s trump card, the F Minor Fantasie (1841), played as an extended ballade with feverish episodes based on a descending four-note motif and chromatic scales. Tharaud engages its highly improvisatory filigree with stylistic energetic abandon, the security of his technique on a par with the likes of Arrau and Argerich, and equally brazen. The ability of the piece to evolve into a Polish war march makes it spiritually akin to the Heroic Polonaise, Op. 53. The entirely natural piano sound only enhances an already illuminated conception.

–Gary Lemco




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