CHOPIN: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (arr. for piano and string quintet) – Gian Luisi, piano/ Ensemble Concertant Frankfurt – MDG

by | Jun 1, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

CHOPIN: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (arr. for piano and string quintet) – Gian Luisi, piano/ Ensemble Concertant Frankfurt – MDG multichannel SACD (2+2+2) 903 1632 [Distr. by E1] ***:

According to the notes for this release, the Ensemble Concertant Frankfurt unearthed this arrangement, ostensibly appearing at the time of original publication of these concertos, when the orchestral and piano-only versions also appeared. Of course the usual arguments follow this sort of thing, the non-transparency of the orchestral arrangement, the fact that Chopin was not happy with the sound in one performance (though he places the blame on the piano used and not the orchestra or orchestration) and the greater “flexibility” inherent in the string quintet which can respond easier to the piano part, without the piano having to use “keyboard thundering” to get the part across. The 1901 restored Steinway used for this recording tends to dominate the sound, hereby offsetting some of the arguments. The quintet sounds like a, well, quintet, small and closely recorded so it doesn’t get drowned out, though the players are excellent. 

It’s tough to buy any of this at this late date. Various arrangements were made of the music for purely practical reasons, to get the work out to the largest possible audience, and a quintet would be cheaper to hire that a full orchestra if it came down to that, and could play in more venues as well. But these two warhorses were intended for full orchestra, something quite important as the romantic age got underway, with its new emphasis on largeness of sound and massive forces. Any pianist worth his or her salt does not resort to thundering in these works, two of the most beautiful and poetic in the literature. Just listen to Maria Joao Pires, or Krystian Zimmerman, and tell me if you hear anything but sheer poetry and perfect accompaniment to those DGG recordings. Martha Argerich has been known to thunder, but her Chopin has exquisite delicacy when called for. I find Gian Luisi’s playing somewhat stilted, lacking flow and nuance present in the best recordings of this work, and very much bar-line oriented. MDG’s typically excellent surround sound is too tubby here and way too close, as mentioned.

For a curiosity it is an excellent performance and recording, and many will want it. For de facto Chopin style and rendering, there are many preferable alternatives.

— Steven Ritter

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