SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

CHOPIN: Etudes, Op. 10; Etudes, Op. 25; 3 Small Etudes – Hardy Rittner, p. – MDG

A very well done set of the intimidating Etudes on a piano of Chopin’s time.

Published on August 23, 2012

CHOPIN: Etudes, Op. 10; Etudes, Op. 25; 3 Small Etudes – Hardy Rittner, piano – MDG multichannel SACD (2+2+2) 904 1747-6, 61:30 [Distr. by E1] ***1/2:

Chopin’s two sets of etudes were created between 1830 and 1837. At that time there had been many similar sets done by composers like Clementi, Hummel, Cramer, and Czerny, but by the time Chopin took them up an extra dimension of ultra-virtuosity had come to be expected; Paris, settled into by the composer (whose father was a French immigrant to Poland) was the scene of a yearly migration of piano virtuosos from all over the world, and it went without saying that any composer wishing to get his music on the stage had to create pieces that addressed this specific aspect of the art.

Of course Chopin had the advantage of having a friend like Franz Liszt (who premiered the Op. 10 set reading from the manuscript) and the adulation of respected composer/critic Robert Schumann, so his name was not exactly unknown. Even so, music at that time was propagated by performers traveling from city to city, and for the word to be spread the music had to be disseminated among the widest following possible. Plus, Chopin was not exactly known for writing music that could be played in the drawing room; it took a special performer indeed skilled enough to navigate the immense complexities of just the technical side of his art, let alone bringing out the poetry.

Chopin preferred the Pleyel piano as he states many times in his various letters; however, he also mentions a specific adherence to the Graf piano, as he mentions in a letter to his family in 1830. For this reason, and because he believes the Graf to be more amenable to the difficulties of the Etudes, Hardy Rittner has chosen an 1835 Graf for his readings on this disc. It is fascinating to hear what Chopin heard, I will admit. There is a certain warmth about the sound that surely enticed a composer so addicted to Mozart and the beautiful cantabile writing of Bellini, sounds which emanate from every bar of almost every piece he ever wrote. Does it surpass a modern Steinway? No, it doesn’t, and I feel certain that Chopin would have been blown away by the accomplishments of artists playing his music on these instruments, especially when the artistry is as spectacular as what we find on the Pollini/DGG recording from 30 years ago—you will not find that on this album, and I think one of the reasons is because the instrument used simply could not take the workout that Pollini gives his piano. But the Graf is no slouch either, an advanced instrument for the time that Chopin encountered on his trips through Vienna, and the lightness of touch does match the dexterity considerations that one hears in these fearless etudes.

Rittner is a fine player with much to say, and those interested in a walk down historical lane will find much to enjoy. Regular old Chopin lovers might just discover some new things as well. The surround sound is lovely and well-balanced.

—Steven Ritter




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