CHOPIN: Works – David Fray, p. – Erato

CHOPIN: Works [TrackList follows] – David Fray, p. – Erato LC 02822, 68:32 (2/3/17) *****:

A carefully-designed Chopin recital weighted towards crepuscular reverie.

As midnight approached and the crowd sorted itself into the right kind of people receptive to genius, Chopin, (according to the famous account by Berlioz), would make his way to the piano. There he would disappear into his his state of grace while the salon would fall under the spell of his lyrical melancholy. Schumann captured this moment well:

“It was an unforgettable picture to see Chopin sitting at the piano like a clairvoyant, lost in his dreams; to see how his vision communicated itself through his playing, and how, at the end of each piece, he had the sad habit of running one finger over the length of the plaintive keyboard, as though to tear himself forcibly away from his dream.”

“At the end of each piece,” he says. But what pieces? We would like to have a set list in order to see the connections, the large canvas on which Chopin painted his feeling-world. While once it was common for a recording to serve up, say, all of the Mazurkas or Preludes, the more compelling Chopin recitals today try to assemble a portrait of the composer’s brilliant world by finding sympathies between diverse pieces.

This deliberative approach is seen to great advantage in the the recording here under review by David Fry, which lacks a title but little else. Our readers are perhaps familiar with this young French pianist as an exponent of Bach. One should not miss the short film that shows him directing an ensemble of German musicians during the recording of one of the keyboard concertos. His vehement perfectionism seems half-theatrical overacting, yet it gives a persuasive picture of an artist who has thought things through. Chopin too, spent his last years obsessed with Bach scores, and here, fittingly, Fray edits and anthologizes in the same spirit.

We start at midnight with three straight nocturnes, beginning with the very familiar “Opus 9 in E-flat Major.” These are played with the concentration that attains to the ideal Chopin aesthetic–effortless, egoless contemplation of a superhuman beauty. I cannot imagine any quibble with the piano sound of these pieces. Recorded in the Eglise Notre Dame du Liban, Paris it is all candlelight, incense and old wood. But on the magnificent Polonaise-Fantasie, the instrument charms us with that extra modicum of magic in the pedaling; shimmering overtones hover like ectoplasm, owing perhaps to a slightly exaggerated pauses. Mr. Fray makes a definitive statement on this piece, which appears midway in the recital. I will venture a hypothesis that this nearly thirteen-minute work is meant as an ascent to Mount Bach, a serene perch from which to look down on the world of human feeling and art itself.

More nocturnes follow, in which Fray caresses the lyrical rubato with the most delicate pianissimo playing I have ever heard. There are harmonic lineaments to puzzle over too. Adjacent pieces play on tonal shifts, from E Major to E minor, a Schubertian affect. And then the ethereal “Nocturne in F-sharp Minor” following the “Opus 55 in F Minor.”  With the “Waltz in A-flat Major” joined to a Nocturne in the same key, we begin to get an idea of how these exquisite and self-contained pieces can combine to produce an overarching sense of composition.

This is one of the great pleasures of this recital. The second is the playing, which is of real distinction. It was a good sign that, upon hearing it,  a Chopin connoisseur and friend of mine, a man of an especially obstinate cast of mind, refrained from hauling out his Ivan Moravec record, with which he condemns undercooked or ostentatious Chopin readings. Rather we could say with Schumann, “Hats off Gentlemen, a genius,” to both composer and Mr. Fray.

TrackList: Nocturne Op 9; Nocturne Op 48; Nocturne Opus 55; Mazurka Op. 63 no. 3; Nocturne op. 62 no. 2; Mazurka Op. 17 no. 2; Polonaise-Fantasie Op. 61; Nocturne Op. 55 No. 1; Nocturne Op. 48 No. 2; Impromptu Op 51 no. 3; Nocturne Op. 32 no 2; Waltz Op 69 No. 1; Mazurka Op. 63 No. 2

—Fritz Balwit

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