CHOPIN: Ballades (complete); Barcarolle in f-sharp, Op. 60; Fantasie in f, Op. 49; Polonaise-fantasie in A-flat, Op. 61 – Sergei Edelmann, piano – Triton stereo-only SACD 58, 75:47 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Though this is an SACD issue please note that it is also stereo-only, meaning two-channel with no surround. But the sound is quite vivid and emphatic with none of the often-present “clinkiness” that accompanies too many surround-sound piano recordings. This was recorded at the Northern Alpine Culture Center in Toyama, Japan, which must have a decent sound-spot designed to capture the instrument.
50-year-old Ukrainian Sergei Edelmann came to the United States in 1979 and has long since established himself as one of the premiere artists on the current scene. Even a cursory internet search will reveal few contrary opinions to that of outstanding artist and a fluent natural interpreter of Chopin. He is very much his own man in the four Ballades, pursuing an agenda that is risky, ruminative, and pointedly individual. These works, composed over a seven-year period, have little in common aside from their titles, each a holistic and confined universe of ideas that might just be somewhat reflective of Chopin’s circumstantial life experiences at the time, colored mainly by his largely bucolic existence with author George Sand, until around 1845 when his health deteriorated so much it began to affect their relationship. Nevertheless, these years were immensely productive for the composer, and the four Ballades and the other two pieces on this disc are all products from that time.
I doubt that anyone will ever equal the Horowitz recording of the Polonaise-fantasie (his Polonaise No. 7) and I cannot say that Edelmann replaces it, but it is different enough from Horowitz’s version (which is much more energetic at almost a minute and a half faster) that the take on this phenomenal masterpiece is worth attention, creating contrasting phrasing and units of musical thought that I didn’t know were there. The Fantasie (the only piece of that name that Chopin ever penned) is also given a reading of unusual depth, as is the also uniquely-named Barcarolle.
So this is an album that offers much to even the most sophisticated Chopin-groupie and collector, presented in realistic and engulfing sound that is bound to please even the most hardened I-am-sick-of-Chopin listener. Well worth a sample!
— Steven Ritter