Classical Reissue Reviews

CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor; Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Brillante; 2 Polonaises; Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat Major; 5 Mazurkas – Menahem Pressler, p./ Vienna State Opera Orch./ var. conductors – Doremi

Collectors of Menahem Pressler have one of “the essentials” in this all-Chopin assemblage from Pressler’s commercial recordings, a real union of virile intelligence and poetic feeling.

Published on May 5, 2013

CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor; Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Brillante; 2 Polonaises; Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat Major; 5 Mazurkas – Menahem Pressler, p./ Vienna State Opera Orch./ var. conductors – Doremi

CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21; Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22; 2 Polonaises, Op. 26; Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat Major, Op. 61; 5 Mazurkas – Menahem Pressler, p./ Vienna State Opera Orch./ David Josefowitz (Op. 11)/ Hans Swarowsky (Op. 21)/ Jean-Marie Auberson (Op. 22) – Doremi DHR-7989/90 (2 CDs) 72:20; 62:44 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Volume 2 of Doremi’s Menahem Pressler Edition comprises an all-Chopin collection that dates from inscriptions made circa 1960. Pressler (b. 1923) represents a German training cross-fertilized by Israeli pedagogy, the latter of which began in 1938. A strong Chopin interpreter, Pressler combines a naturally powerful resonance with the poetic sense for rubato and metric nuance without which Chopin simply does not work. A good case in point is his Polonaise in E-flat Minor, Op. 26, No. 2 (1835), a most dramatic treatment of the Polish national dance form, rife with equally potent lyrical and galloping episodes. Highly stylized, the piece becomes a ballade or narrative form as well, richly contoured by Pressler, whose touch in 1960 generates authority without heavy mannerism. Its companion, the C-sharp Minor Op. 26, No. 1, asserts itself both dramatically and lyrically, establishing for the polonaise a new national identity, intimate and epic at once.

The first of the mazurka group, the B-flat Major, Op. 7, No. 1, emanates schwung and studied melancholy, what Schumann recognized early as a national form studded by guns as well as flowers. The B-flat Minor, Op. 24, No 4 involves a major development in Chopin’s polyphony and harmonic audacity, adding to it a canny sense of dramatic repetition and slight variance of both phrase and accent.  Pressler trips out this gem in suave shifts of accent and tempo rubato. The C-sharp Minor, Op. 30, No. 4 offers askew harmonies in the course of an equally asymmetrical salon dance form featuring a sultry trill. Pressler’s pearly play becomes quite impressive, as do his alluring bass harmonies. The Op. 33, No. 4 in B Minor proves a massive account, opening with intimate, delicate pulsations but soon exploding into a resolved, defiant gesture against spiritual oppression. The Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 63, No. 2 manages to condense Chopin’s mature experience into less than two minutes’ worth of labyrinth, but the effect from Pressler haunts the imagination well beyond the measured time.

The 1846 Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat Major always poses problems, its hybrid form a through-composed series of sectionalized variants on rhythmic ideas of national character and another, chordal idea over lyric materials in the lower range of the keyboard. The liquid approach to chains of dotted notes we find here from Pressler exactly matches the suave nuance he achieves in the Andante Spianato arrangement with limited orchestral support from Jean-Marie Auberson (1920-2004). The Polonaise-Fantasie’s ensuing drama that plays out certainly embraces the poetry in Chopin’s often polyphonic style, even while the national dance refuses to relent and culminates in a cadenza after exhibiting Pressler’s gift in octave triplets in the left hand.

The two concerto performances demonstrate that fleet combination of high articulation and internal lyrical drama that carry a noble carriage in all parts. In our one interview, Pressler mentioned that he performed the F Minor Concerto with Mitropoulos, having come to rehearsal at Carnegie Hall on the very day that Heifetz “was upstairs in a rehearsal room practicing for their collaboration on the Sibelius Concerto.” The recording with the renowned Hans Swarowsky (1899-1975) evinces a plastic, infinitely nuanced song in the Larghetto, and the middle section proves as muscularly driven as the outer section rings of the troubadour. The canny mechanics of the last movements of both concertos delight as well as awe In the suavely deft spinning out of Chopin’s intimations of krakowiak elements. Each concerto emerges as a brilliant tour de force tempered by quick virile intelligence, always inspired by those forward thrusts and pregnant pauses that betoken the message of the poet.

—Gary Lemco




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