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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 23 August 2005
I adore Chopin's Ballades, and as a result I'm pretty picky when it comes to listening to other people play them. But this cd rapidly became one of my favourites.
I admit, I was at first a bit underwhelmed by the understated opening of the 4th in F minor (the first track I listened to), but I found myself being lulled by it into a gorgeous dreamy haze. And this approach renders the fortissimos, sforzandos etc. when they come even moreso. They sound dramatic and -- for lack of a better word -- deliberate, while in other pianists' hands the effect is often lessened slightly by the more assertive character of what came before.
I mention the 4th specifically because for me this was the one that really allowed the distinctiveness of Demidenko's playing to come through. The others are beautifully played, too, though I would have liked just a little more fire in the presto con fuoco in the G minor. But that's more than made up for by his wonderfully controlled pianism.
The sonata -- again, great. I'm less familiar with recordings of this work than the Ballades so I don't feel as qualified to comment on it. But I will say that it didn't disappoint -- I really enjoyed it. The finale in particular (in my opinion one of the most exciting pieces of music Chopin ever wrote) was everything I could have wanted.
This is one of those CDs that, once it's finished, you feel compelled to hit the play button again, so much does it stay with you. A great buy.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Although Chopin's Ballades were written at widely separated times in Chopin's life and thus show some change in style from First to Fourth, they are similar in that they seem to tell a tale in music. Chopin did not provide programs for the Ballades, but the discursive form seems to suggest a narrator spinning a yarn. And this is where Nikolai Demidenko really scores. His approach is leisurely, almost as if the story-teller has settled in to get the most of out his tale and we are seated at his feet, like children eager to be entertained. He has all the tools that a well-trained actor has: he can alter his dialect, do 'voices,' build suspense, scare us silly, rage and whisper and make us laugh. In the first Ballade, for instance, he starts off in a quietly expository way and when the first explosion comes, even though I know the piece, having played it myself, I was so taken by surprise that I almost fell out of my seat. Talk about dramatic!
I must admit that I am late coming to Demidenko. He's just been a name to me until recently, and I've never heard him 'live.' In a previous CD that I reviewed here (Pictures at an Exhibition; Ten Pieces from Prokofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet') I commented about the nuanced shaping of the musical material. The same applies here. There is never a rote or automatic note. In some hands this nuanced approach can lead to mannered playing, but not here because it also sounds utterly spontaneous. In the Third Ballade he manages a long crescendo about three minutes in (and again, even more so, at about 6:00) that is spooky because it is so inexorable. I kept thinking he would have to back off, but he kept going to the inevitable climax and yet never clanged or clattered. This fellow has seemingly limitless technique, and he uses it to poetic purpose.
There are many fine recordings of the Ballades. My own favorites include Ivan Moravec and Arthur Rubinstein. I will now have to include Demidenko with those two. And indeed I think the his Third Ballade in F Minor, Op. 52 may be the finest I know.
As for the Third Sonata, I can only add more of the same. This is one of the most organic, most poetic readings I can ever recall. Initially I thought the opening was rather wimpy, with that cascading opening theme sounding underpowered, under-characterized. But then I realized that this was absolutely on purpose; Demidenko has opened the Sonata diffidently because he intends for the narrator (there's that notion of story-telling again) to grow in power and confidence as he realizes that he has hooked his audience. By the time he gets to the putative second theme he is singing a supremely lyrical song which, on return, becomes more exuberant. And when the opening cascade sounds again it is this time coming from the heights confidently as if to say 'You must pay attention to what I'm telling you.' This, dear friends, is what intellect and heart, coupled with technique, can bring to music like this. The following three movements bring similar rhetorical effects. The Scherzo is incredibly fleet and light initially, with interspersed 'im Legendton' asides. The Largo has even more of the dramatic sense of a legend being recounted, but with some of the most lyrical outpourings of which Chopin was capable; and can anyone believe that Chopin could have written this without knowing Beethoven's late-sonata slow movements? Demidenko artfully conveys the hesitant, labored breathing of this movement. The last movement, containing one of the most memorable of Chopin's non-Bellinian melodies coupled with one of his catchiest rhythms, is a grimly determined maelstrom, just as, I think, Chopin intended. People always mention 'the sound of wind sweeping over a graveyard' when talking about the pianissimo final movement of Chopin's Second Sonata. In Demidenko's performance of the Third's final movement, it is a sea-gale flooding ashore, sweeping all before it. A brilliant tour de force of pianism.
Very strongly recommended.
TT=70:11
Scott Morrison
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2012
I am no a musician but have listened and heard Demidenko live. He is brilliant. Clearly he is not to everyone taste. Too much rhubato (spelling?) lack of disciplin - what rubbish. The old fogeys of Penguin Gramaphone review 2002 etc are often too pinched to give credit prefering more orthodox interpretation. I have listened to loads of first rate pianists, Brendel, Ashkenasy, Horovitz .. and for me Demidenko is outstanding
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