CHOPIN: 4 Scherzos; Nocturnes: Op. 15, No. 2; Op. 27, No. 2; Op. 48, Nos. 1-2; Nocturne (1830); Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66 – Elisabeth Leonskaja, piano – MDG

by | Jul 27, 2009 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

CHOPIN: 4 Scherzos; Nocturnes: Op. 15, No. 2; Op. 27, No. 2; Op. 48, Nos. 1-2; Nocturne (1830); Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66 – Elisabeth Leonskaja, piano – MDG multichannel SACD, 76:21 **1/2 [Distr. by Koch]:

Leonskaja gives us the complete Scherzos, thought by as eminent a critic as Franz Liszt to be among the composer’s best works. However, according to the notes, Liszt also accorded these works in general “bold, brilliant, and charming”, not what I hear on this disc. Truth be told, this is one of the most lethargic, non-propulsive and misguided Chopin recitals I have encountered. The Scherzos were written over a 12 year period, Chopin taking a form hinted at in Beethoven and divorcing it from its symphonic context and letting it stand as a mini-tonepoem all on its own. There is a dramatic curve to all of them, and the rhythmic impetus in each must me thoroughly maintained. This pianist does not—just listen to the opening of the famous B-minor work, Op. 31. The beginning, under the guise of mysteriousness, is slowly brought forth and then pulled apart as if Leonskaja is intent on lovingly caressing every short phrase. The momentum is completely destroyed, the phrases choppy and disconnected, lacking any sense of forward motion. Sometimes God is in the details and maybe in the short phrases as well, but He is often found in the longer stretches of logic as well. Drama disappears in such a framework, the piece sinking Titanic-like in a diluted muddy vortex.

The Nocturnes fare little better. Aside from the gross taffy-pull that characterizes the Scherzos, making them seem almost nocturne-like in emotive content, placing these pieces as filler fails miserably as the tone continues unremittingly desolate, hardly “bold, brilliant, and charming”, and her sense of rubato is I fear far too overdeveloped, as if the exaggeration is done intentionally to make a point.

While the louder exclamations on this recording make quite a sonic splash, I did note several strange instances where the sound seemed to be reverberating off the paneling of whatever hall this was recorded in, and causing a bit of a “ghost” image, disconcerting to say the least. And the middle register of the instrument was often cloudy and nondescript, as if the mics were not placed properly. If you want the Scherzos, you can do a lot worse than grabbing EMI’s new two-for-one re-release of Garrick Ohlsson’s 1976 recording, coupled with a generous selection of nocturnes as well. For the latter alone, look no further than either Krystian Zimerman or Maria Joao Pires, both on DGG.

— Steven Ritter     

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