Chopin: The Essentials

Friday, March 26, 2010

With the 200th anniversary of the birth of Chopin, record companies are mining their catalogues to pay homage to the Polish poet of the piano. As this week's Full Rotation shows, the Harmonia Mundi label has drawn together some of its finest piano performances to create a bargain-priced collection called "Chopin: The Essentials."

Because of Harmonia Mundi’s relationship with the Van Cliburn Competition (the three medalists are awarded a recording contract) the label has a constantly renewable talent pool to draw from. This collection includes a pair of Etudes performed by Nobuyuki Tsujii, the 2009 Cliburn co-gold medalist. The 21-year-old Japanese pianist, who has been blind since birth and memorizes music after listening to his teacher's recordings, delivers fiery renditions of the two pieces.

Olga Kern is another Cliburn winner who is strongly in her element here. The Russian pianist, who tied for the gold medal in 2001, delivers a sweeping version of the Fantasie-impromptu, the famous Funeral March movement of the Sonata No. 2 Op. 35, and the finale to the Concerto No. 1. Jon Nakamatsu, the 1997 Cliburn gold medalist, makes a strong impression in just one piece, the Polonaise “Heroique” (No. 6 in A Major).

The collection is not all Cliburn winners, of course, and there’s a strong French constituent given the label’s roots. Alain Planès, who for several years was the solo pianist with Boulez's Ensemble InterContemporain, turns up in two Preludes (Nos. 6 and 15) plus the Andante Spianato Op. 22. Alexandre Tharaud, known for his finely etched renditions of miniatures, brings a remarkable level of detail and finesse to the Grand Valse Brilliante and the Valse Op. 69 No. 1. Rounding out the collection are Brigitte Engerer (Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2) and Cedric Tiberghien (the G minor Ballade).

Frederic Chopin - The Essentials

Various Artists

Harmonia Mundi 2908375

Available at Arkivmusic.com

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