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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 31 May 2005
The Nocturnes have received sufficient comment by the other reviewer. I would like to commend these recordings of the Ballades, especially the first, as the finest I have heard. Ashkenazy's first recordings (available on Decca Legends) are technically adept with very precise phrasing, but these recordings have the edge for their musicality. The more mature Ashkenazy heard here demonstrates complete command over the emotional content and his generous use of the pedal gives them a luxurient feel that many other recordings lack. His recording of the first Ballade sounds most natural, so that one is left with the feeling that THIS is how it is meant to sound. Other performers by comparison sound a little 'lost' in the freedom afforded by Chopin's shifting structure.
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on 16 January 2013
I attempted to put this CD on my music system using Windows Media player to convert the files to WMA but strangely all the track information was incorrect. The wrong track names have been allocated/mixed up including calling Nocturnes, Ballades and vice versa! It took some time to manually rename each track so that I can find them on my system. (The titles are correct on the CD sleeve though and this issue is only apparent if the CDs are played via a computer/iPod etc)
However all is forgiven! The piano playing is sublime and to me captures the essence of Chopin. I have several other Chopin Nocturnes CD's and also love the Maria Joao Pires version but for me the Ashkenazy version here brings a new clarity of expression and fluidity of rubato that shows a depth of "understanding" that I have not encountered before. This is the version for the "Desert Island"! Audio quality is pretty good and on some tracks excellent.
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The Nocturnes on this disc were recorded over a span of six years from 1979-85. They were never recorded as a complete set but were recorded as part of a chronological set of the complete works. That is also how the Ballades were fitted in to the schedule. As a result the pieces work more as individuals, rather as conceived by Chopin of course, than as a unified set and that was the original intention. This re-packaging changes those parameters. The recording quality is good and surprisingly consistent bearing in mind the span of time involved.

The original recording intention seems to have suited Ashkenazy's character very well as he has always taken a fairly strong individual line over his interpretations. He is by no means the only one like this and Perahia springs readily to mind in his individual approach to Chopin - see his preludes or sonatas for example. Listening to the Ashkenazy performances of the Nocturnes, there seems to be an unmistakable Russian feel to them with the frequently passionate central sections being encased by the slower sections reminiscent of those desolate empty spaces of an epic nature to be found in the Rachmaninov Etudes Tableaux and some of the Preludes. Generally I would describe Ashkenazy as producing performances suitable for the concert hall whereas pianists such as Rubinstein, Moravec or Pires for example are more intimate in style - perhaps more suitable for a private audience such as in venues frequented by Chopin. All of these pianists of course, are playing on pianos of far greater power and tonal heft than originally known of by Chopin so one ought to be careful when making value judgements based on scale of interpretation and delivery.

The four Ballades are given performances of equal scale with considerable virtuosity and undeniable excitement in the faster passages and with poetic sensitivity underlined elsewhere. These are also performances given on a large scale and have less varied rubato than Moravec for example. These are generally straighter and less complex readings than some but no less impressive for all that. These can reasonably be ranked as among the most successful versions of the Ballades on disc.

It seems to me that there are different types of valid performances to suit different occasions. All the above pianists deliver fully in their own particular ways. Yundi Li provides yet another example, very brilliant in approach, on his two DVD recordings of the Ballades from 2004.

Like many collectors, I own a lot of Chopin discs by many of the world's expert pianists and I find them all equally rewarding if in different ways. That is the whole point of collecting - to get more and more of an insight into these multi-faceted works by learning from a range of fine musicians.

This is a generous coupling of these works and given by an acknowledged expert with his own particular style. There will be those who would prefer a less forthright, even at times muscular, approach but these are still remarkably fine and relevant readings in their own way. There can never be a definitive disc of such core repertoire in such a hotly contended market but it is certainly possible to list a selection of outstanding versions, all fine in their own ways. Ashkenazy's performances of these works certainly deserves to be among that elite.

I would therefore suggest that it is deserving of serious consideration as a purchase along with other fine recordings by equally fine exponents of Chopin's music.
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on 11 September 2003
A very good recording, capturing every sparkle of virtuosity in Ashkenazy's bright performance. The interpretation is very elegant (in a Chopanian fashion), particularly in the way that each and every single phrase is shaped. There are some who seem to think that the tone of Ashkenazy is somewhat "metallic", but this is definatly not the case, for most of the recording there is a Bösendorfer feel (even though i suspect the recording is done on a Stienway). There are moments of metallicness on some of the more martellato moments, which one could say is in the style of the period of pianos at the time.
There is a minor "hiccup" on the 3 ballade, but it may be due to my old player.
I bought the CD originally as i was studing one of the nocturnes, but i have recently been listening to the recordings a great deal more then i should :)
On the whole, a rather invaluable item for those who are studing chopin (especially those who are doing their LRSM, since all the ballades are included on the second CD), or those who just want to listen to music when they are walking, in sunshine or rain!
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on 29 January 2016
Ashkenazy plays Chopin in the style of Rachmaninov, with a strong Russian feel and a muscular approach. A few of the Nocturnes are instantly recognisable masterpieces, but I was rather disappointed by Ashkenazy's interpretations. They lack the beauty and intimacy I find in Rubinstein's performances. Ashkenazy is too intent on showing off his virtuosity in what are supposed to be quiet, romantic, night-time pieces.
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on 18 June 2008
I don't think anyone could argue with Vladimir Ashkenazy's ability to perform Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev or Scriabin with great eloquence and passion. He seems so at home in that repertoire.
However, when placed in the entirely more intimate environment of Chopin he really doesn't seem to know what to do. His waltzes are bland and sound just like encore pieces with little or no real expression, his mazurkas are just too dull.
In Ashkenazy's hands the etudes do sound wonderful, however, and I like his recordings of the polonaises also, and the scherzi and ballades.
This recording of the nocturnes falls somewhere in the middle. However, the Nocturnes really are one of the cornerstones of piano music and there are many much better recordings to be had, in my opinion.
Ashkenazy is a great pianist but I'd look elsewhere for a recording that really does justice to this music, or the nocturnes at least.
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on 11 May 2013
I am constantly playing this CD – it's so restful. I love it when friends come round; also as background music when I'm working. I'd love to play the piano and I'm full of admiration.
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on 24 October 2012
I have loved Chopin's music for many years and it is only recently that I have been upgrading his music from cassette tapes to CD's. I am a big fan of Vladimir Ashkenazy and really like his recordings of all the Rachmaninov Piano Concertos he has released for DECCA. I was very pleased when after doing Amazon searches that he had recorded all of Chopin's music for solo Piano. I just had to get Ashkenazy's recordings of the Nocturnes which also has all of the Ballades as well. His smooth and sensitive playing of the Nocturnes and Ballades on this CD are exceptional. I know Arthur Rubinstein has recorded Chopin's Nocturnes to great acclaim, but I am quite content with Mr Ashkenazy's.
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on 24 March 2014
Vladimir Ashkenazy, Chopin, top notch recording and production. This was bought as abirthday for an ex first class concert pianist and did not disappoint. She is as picky as it gets, so you can't go wrong with this one.
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on 8 July 2011
I know the famous Chopin nocturnes since at least 10 years but wanted to have it interpreted by a very good interpreter and I think I have chosen one of the best/if not the best..Vladimir Ashkenazy..This is magnificent, exceptional..not enough words to describe this wonderful record.
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