DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Ramzi Yassa plays Chopin at Manial Palace (2012)

An Egyptian pianist with a lot to say, and well worth knowing.

Published on October 2, 2012

Ramzi Yassa plays Chopin at Manial Palace (2012) 

Program: Ballade No. 1 in g, Op. 23; 4 Mazurkas, Op. 24; Sonata No. 2 in b-flat, Op. 35; 3 Nocturnes, Op. 9; Scherzo No. 3 in c-sharp, Op. 39; Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise in E-flat, Op. 22
Ramzi Yassa, piano
Producer: DayDream Art Production
Director: Mohamed Samir
Studio: Pavane Record ADVD 6601 [5/15/12] [Distr. by Qualiton]
Video: Color (PAL) 16:9 (also available in an NTSC version)
Audio: PCM stereo
All Regions
Length: 80 minutes
Rating: ****:

I knew nothing about the Manial Palace Estate and Museum except for its existence. According to Wikipedia, “The Manial Palace was built by Prince Mohammed Ali Tewfik (1875—1955), the uncle of King Farouk, between 1899 and 1929. He had it designed in a style integrating European Art Nouveau and Rococo with many traditional Islamic architecture styles including Ottoman, Moorish, Persian, creating inspired combinations in spatial design, architectural and interior decorations, and sumptuous materials. It housed his extensive art, furniture, clothing, silver, objects d’art collections, and medieval manuscripts dating back to the Middle Ages.” What little is shown of it on this DVD is impressive indeed, exotically oriental in the best tradition of all those pictures you saw as a kid that illustrated Tales of the Arabian Nights and books like it. It is certainly worth looking up on the Internet and seeing some of the many photos.

I was also not familiar with Ramzi Yassa, though I will be on the lookout from now on. Again, according to Wikipedia (because Pavane was inconsiderate enough to omit any program notes), he was born in 1948 “and is an Egyptian pianist. An outstanding member of the first batch of musicians trained at the Cairo Conservatory, Yassa graduated in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatory, taking part in the 1974 Tchaikovsky competition, where he earned an honorary certificate. He then launched a concert career, settling in Paris. Three years later, he was the first Egyptian pianist to win a major piano competition – the ‘Paloma O’Shea’ Santander International Piano Competition.” He has performed all over the world with many famous ensembles and conductors. I might note that he is also a Coptic Orthodox Christian—and they are not faring too well in Egypt as of late.

His Chopin is quite modern in style, crisp, vibrant, and ever cognizant of interpretative articulation. His pedal is modest yet not held in reserve when needed, and rarely have I encountered a pianist so concerned with correct note values and proper rhythmical evaluation, even in many of the faster runs. A lot of players take Chopin’s music and treat it as a lump of clay, to be molded in any way they want. Yassa shows more respect for what is actually written, and though this does not mean that he eschews any significant interpretation it does mean that he doesn’t ignore what he feels is obvious on the page before adding his own flavoring—Chopin’s stew comes very highly seasoned to begin with.

My favorites on this recital are the brilliant and very moving First Ballade and the sparkling and intense Sonata. Yassa is really in his idiom here, and gives rapturous readings of both. The Mazurkas are nicely paced while the Andante Spianato makes for a lovely finale. Only the Nocturnes disappointed to some extent—I felt as if some of the poetry was lost in the shuffle of correctness, perhaps one example of his generally fine approach not working across the board.

The sound is standard stereo and very good, while the camera work is limited, focused, and non-intrusive. I might mention that this disc would not play on my Blu-ray player—I had recourse to a DVD player and my computer. A fine recital. [A few players play both PAL & NTSC discs, but this disc is available in either format...Ed.]

—Steven Ritter




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