9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2010
Many great musicians don't quite 'get' Chopin. For Wagner, he was an excellent composer - for the right hand. You can hear any number of renditions which stress the melodies, but where the accompaniment almost disappears. Horowitz, for example, touches the keyboard with such a feather-light touch at times that his fingers hardly seem to move. The most powerful Chopin interpreters - like Claudio Arrau - understand how important the sometimes discordant harmonies are for the sound. Arrau was accused at times of given the left hand too much prominence. If you can't hear the left hand plainly, you have lost much of the point of what Chopin is trying to achieve.
Chopin uses melody and rhythm to frame his work; the invention lies in the harmony. Grove explains that "most of his works have a simple texture of accompanied melody. ... Chopin's harmony however was conspicuously innovatory. Through melodic clashes, ambiguous chords, delayed or surprising cadences, remote or sliding modulations ... unresolved dominant 7ths and occasionally excursions into pure chromaticism or modality, pushed the accepted procedures of dissonance and key into previously unoccupied territory."
Ohlsson understands how the music works. One of the critical reviews of Ohlsson's complete works on Amazon complains that "Ohlsson time and again submerges the bel canto melodies beneath an over-insistent left hand." That misses the point completely. Ohlsson is one of very few outstanding pianists who knows that Chopin isn't complete without the harmonies, and who is ready to let the music speak. The result is a joy.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Which famous French critic said 'Chopin is not for virgins' is something I can't bring back to mind. It was someone who had become exasperated with 'this or that nocturne or prelude tastefully rendered by Mademoiselle So-and-so'. Whoever he was, Garrick Ohlsson certainly ought to have satisfied him on that score at least. This is powerful Chopin playing indeed, and I like it this way as well.
It does not lack for contrasts, as I am sure you will have understood without my saying, but this is not playing with much of a feminine side. The really powerful touches are reserved for some of the more mature numbers, but I was also made aware of the development of the master's style from the early works with opus-numbers in single digits to the formidable and fully developed Chopin of op 30 and thereabouts, by which time he had published not only the preludes but both books of etudes. This first volume of Ohlsson's mazurkas follows the opus-number sequence for the first 29 works of the 57 making up the entire 2-disc release. There is an interesting liner note explaining exactly what mazurkas are, and it appears that the term is not precise, but refers to a variety of Polish folk-dances, although located around a certain area in the Warsaw vicinity. I give Ohlsson high marks for keeping the sense of a dance all the way through. The idiom varies not a little, and although I was delighted as I always am by the gorgeous clodhopping D major number, op 33/2, may I direct the attention of anyone reading this notice to the incomparable performance by Horowitz who takes a slower tempo with marvellous effect.
Chopin gained such phenomenal popularity from such an early stage that in the days before recording someone was driven to suggesting that his works should be banned for a certain period. Recording has evened matters out and this desperate panic-measure is thankfully not needed, but I wonder whether the mazurkas are actually the least well-known side of Chopin's output. There are 57 acknowledged numbers plus 5 more that appear to be of questionable authenticity, and he did not compose 57 or anywhere near 57 examples of anything else. We know what a burning and intense Polish patriot he was, he was composing mazurkas from his earliest years to his last months, but somehow I for one have been missing out on them for many years. The main phase of my Chopin-collecting was nearly half a century ago, and it was mainly Rubinstein. It has built up since then, and featured a variety of interpreters, but I'm conscious that until now I have carried all Chopin's important works (i.e. other than songs and the first piano sonata) in my head for years - except the mazurkas and the nocturnes. Now in his bicentenary year at least I can rectify this frightful deficiency, and I am grateful to Ohlsson for bringing me all the mazurkas, in two goes and in fine accounts. I am nearly grateful enough to award him 5 stars, but in fact my ignorance of the mazurkas was not total. There are 10 of them that I have known very well indeed for a very long time indeed, and the playing utterly eclipses Ohlsson. You can find them on a Chopin recital disc by Michelangeli.
Four of Michelangeli's 10 parallel Ohlsson's selection on this first disc. The significant difference is not some matter of stylistic grasp, and if I may I shall sidestep the interminable argument about how to apply tempo rubato in Chopin, a dispute that arises with particular vehemence when it comes to the mazurkas. It is a matter of sheer quality in the piano playing, and although the recorded sound may influence the issue to some extent, I'm quite sure it's not the main or determining factor. It's just Ohlsson's bad luck to that extent that he has come up against quite possibly the greatest executant of the piano who has ever lived.
I just mentioned recording. The sound here is fine basically, as one would hope from a recital committed to disc first in 1998 in New York. A major lacuna in my Chopin collection has been filled in, and I am duly appreciative. This disc and its companion are thoroughly recommendable, but they are not the be-all of Chopin interpretation still less the end-all of playing the piano.