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Perahia succeeds in turning these technical challenges into primarily musical experiences
on 28 December 2013
This disc, well recorded in 2001, received many critical plaudits upon its first issue as here. It entered a fairly competitive market with well regarded recordings made by many of the world's finest Chopin players.
Perahia, sometimes described as the poet of the keyboard, delivers a set of readings on this disc that fit that general description. One is aware of a greater use of light and shade than is often the case. He also makes use of more sparing rubato. Neither of these features is a universal element in terms of these pieces which, at base level, are studies designed to expose and remedy technical flaws.
The etudes are targeted at particular technical issues and it is therefore an implied requirement that tempo should be kept steadier than in other compositions. What Perahia has done on this recording is to broaden the focus to include other musical notions such as phrasing and touch and to do this he has been prepared to be more flexible in terms of basic tempo. Perahia has a considerable technique and that is made clear in a handful of etudes that are played quicker than usual. Thus the listener is able to accept more easily the times when slower or more varied tempi are used as there can be no doubt that such interpretive decisions have been taken regardless of technical competency.
The are other fine versions to consider of course. The Ashkenazy set is possibly the nearest to adopting the closest to the written requirements and to that he adds his own volatile temperament. His disc is available in an excellently remastered version using 24 bit technology. Pollini gives a typically brilliant version but it is arguable that his recording emphasises the aggressive side of his playing which comes over as rather unyielding - almost the opposite of Perahia. Lugansky gives a deeply satisfying account and his lays claim to being the darkest view of the pieces. His disc was awarded a prize upon first release. Finally, among this short short-list, one must not ignore Rubinstein's row of polished diamonds, best bought in his bargain box set of complete Chopin.
I would therefore suggest that this disc by Perahia is fully deserving of being considered as one of the very best available. I would not wish to be without either Lugansky or Ashkenazy either, both of whom take a straighter view of the music, one darker and one more volatile respectively. Collectors of multiple versions will want at least those three. Single disc purchasers could de completely satisfied with this disc by Perahia - or the ones by Ashkenazy or Lugansky.