CHOPIN Pleyel = Five Preludes, Op. 28; Prelude, Op. 45; Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 47; 3 Etudes from Op. 25; Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9, No. 2; Nocturne in D-flat, Op. 27, No. 2; Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1; Nocturne in F-sharp Minor, Op. 48, No. 2; 3 Mazurkas; Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat Major, Op. 51; Andante spianato in G Major, Op. 22; Grand Valse in A-flat Major, Op. 42 – Alain Planes, piano – Harmonia mundi HMC 902052, 80:02 ****:
Recorded March 2009, this recital “Chez Pleyel” by Alain Planes duplicates an actual recital Chopin gave 21 February 1842, here played on a Pleyel instrument from 1836 that well might have known the composer’s touch. The aristocrat of the salon, Chopin’s essentially vocal style find its complement in the Pleyel instrument, whose mellow, richly delicate sound proffers sweet resonance to the intimate intricate three-voice textures that infiltrate Chopin’s figures.
Planes opens with the Andante spianato in G Major, exploiting the harp-like surface of the scale patterns and bass chords. He then proceeds to the A-flat Major Ballade, built in three registers and invoking small kernels of melody against extended periods in fioritura runs and trills. The ostinato canter of the piece assumes variegated colors through the variants and rhetorical gestures Planes imposes on its lofty poetry. With the ensuing C Minor and F-sharp Minor Nocturnes from Op. 48, we reach the end of the first “tableaux” of works on a large scale, especially as the mature Chopin applies harmonic resources and interior rhythm in his own modally idiosyncratic way.
A group of four Preludes, Op. 28 begins a small cycle of miniature whose power remains undiminished in their power to communicate epic emotions in a condensed space. The F-sharp Major laments and waxes nostalgic; the B Minor offers autumn raindrops, a step away from a Brahms intermezzo, but infinitely more elusive; the E Minor concentrates a wistful angst into an obstinate rhythm that grips us with fierce, spiteful energy; the E Major possesses a grim resolve, an ascent to Calvary, tragically heroic. Planes juxtaposes its sorrow against the “Aeolian Harp” Etude, Op. 25, No. 1, an opportunity to hear what a contemporary instrument could offer its audience by what of rolling arpeggios that strum eternal consolations. The rippling F Minor, Op. 25, No. 2 takes on a pearly sonority; the fiendish C Minor, Op. 25, No. 12 proves that Chopin could wrestle passionately with whirlwinds if he so chose. Intermission, I’d say.
Planes now ventures into a group of large pieces once more, beginning with the famous E-flat Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2, here divided into minutely lyrical periods and whimsical flourishes, each of which breathes an aromatic charm. The D-flat Nocturne reigns high among Chopin’s most spun-out love songs in variegated harmonic-rhythm, ever fresh and erotic. The late C-sharp Minor Prelude fuses exoticism with the very essence of the night-piece, pointed at every turn, in retrospect, at Scriabin’s equally-refined ear. The familiar D-flat Nocturne exudes, respectively, an especial discreet tendresse and dire shadows.
We might interpret the last set of five pieces as a postlude for initiates. The soul of Poland, the mazurka, has three representative of Chopin’s middle period, two from Op. 41–the E Minor and the B Major–and the “a Emile Gaillard” entry. Try counting the rhythmic beats in the A Minor to appreciate how elastic Chopin’s rhythm can be. The E Minor could be inspired a militant Napoleonic gesture. The slinky B Major comes as close as music can to a coquette. The G-flat Major Impromptu remains the most provocative of the set; and here, on the Pleyel, we want to draw close to the instrument–with the ardent Berlioz–to savor Chopin’s wayward forms and subtle harmonies. That erudition may mate with spontaneity becomes frothily apparent in the final selection, the 2/4 Waltz in A-flat, Chopin’s ironic counterpart to Schumann’s maerchen in Carnaval. Our sojourn to les salon de M. Pleyel has been most illuminating and illuminated, a tour de force for all concerned and indispensable to the Chopin connoisseur.
— Gary Lemco