CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor; Fantasia on Polish Airs; Krakowiak – Grand Rondeau de Concert – Eldar Nebolsin, piano/ Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/ Antoni Wit – Naxos Audio-Only Blu-ray NBD0011 (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or PCM 2.0) (no video) ****:
CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in E minor; Variations on “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante in E flat Major – Eldar Nebolsin, piano/ Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/ Antoni Wit – Naxos Audio-Only Blu-ray NBD0012 (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or PCM 2.0) (no video) ****:
The latest in Naxos’ continuing series of audio-only Blu-ray releases were recorded in Warsaw’s Philharmonic Hall in 2009 as 88.2K/24-bit 5.0 surround and PCM stereo. This is the latest effort from Naxos at providing some of their titles as hi-res surround recordings, since they gave up on SACD and DVD-Audio after a short time. In addition to the unusual format – of which there have only been a few releases so far – both of these albums used the new Polish National Chopin Edition of the scores, said to be the most accurate to date.
Pianist Eldar Nebolsin hails from Uzbekistan and won the Sviatoslav Richter Prize in 2005 at the International Piano Competition in Moscow. He launched his international career in l992 and has appeared with major orchestras and conductors around the world. He has previously done acclaimed Naxos albums of Rachmaninov’s Preludes and the two Liszt Piano Concertos, as well as recordings for Decca and Oehms.
Both concertos were written by the teenage Chopin so that he could have virtuosic and flashy concerti to perform himself in public. The Second was actually written prior to the First. Both have a similar three-movement structure of Maestoso, Larghetto and Vivace, except that in the First the Vivace movement is in Rondo form. The First’s central movement is a stirring Romanza that the composer described as “one’s beautiful memories.” The dramatic opening movement is balanced by a virtuosic Rondo finale.
The other two Chopin works are about 13 and 14 minutes length each, and both make use of folk music elements from his beloved Poland (although he lived most of his adult life in Paris). They are also quite virtuosic, with the Grand Rondeau ending with quotation of the native dance of Krakow, the Krakowiak.
The Second Piano Concerto of 1830 was written just before Chopin set out for Vienna, which location failed to work for him and he eventually found his way to Paris. Sounding a bit less like Chopin than Hummel or Spohr, the work nevertheless has some lovely melodies and its closing Mazurka is certainly Polish-sounding, with interesting orchestral effects. Chopin’s first teacher was a contemporary of Mozart and instilled in Chopin a love of Mozart, which explains his variations on Mozart’s childrens’ song we know better as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The Grande Polonaise was composed in Vienna and later had the Andante spianato preface added to it. Chopin’s sparkling version of the Polish native dance is most attractive.
Conductor Antoni Wit was kept busy recording Chopin with the Warsaw Philharmonic. He made these hi-res Blu-ray surround recordings in September of 2009 for Naxos. Then in February of 2010 he again conducted both of them for an Accentus Blu-ray video – this time with two different pianists – Evgeny Kissin in one concerto and Nikolai Demidenko in the other, plus a couple of solo piano encores. Kissin had started his career by playing both concertos in a Moscow concert in 1984. The Blu-ray video became available in January and has received excellent reviews. I don’t know what format was used for the original recordings and haven’t viewed it.
So even without considering all the other recordings of the Chopin concerti out there, we have quite a decision here between these two. Both are lovely performances, and both have surround sonics in lossless DTS 5.0 surround on Blu-ray, but the Kissin/Demidenko release also has the 16:9 Blu-ray videos going for it. However, at $45 retail it is a bit more expensive than both Naxos at about $40 total. SACD fans will not want to throw out their Living Stereo two and three-channel versions of the two concertos with Arthur Rubinstein on RCA Living Stereo, and I preferred the richer, less strident sonics of the Second Piano Concerto with Mari Kodama on a PentaTone SACD. Both had better sonics on the orchestra than the Naxos Blu-rays.
— John Sunier
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