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Chopin: Ballades, Scherzos & Mazurkas / Ax


Release Date: 11/01/2005 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 72554   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 14 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

First, some discographical housekeeping for the benefit of collectors who've followed Emnauel Ax's Chopin recordings over the years. The Four Ballades are the same 1985 RCA recordings originally coupled with the Second Sonata. Disc 1 continues with 75 percent of a CBS Masterworks 1987 release devoted to the four Scherzos and six Mazurkas, retaining the first and third scherzos and five of the mazurkas. (Why did the reissue producer omit Op. 6 No. 2? There was room.) Disc 2 restores the second Scherzo and Trois Nouvelles Etudes that filled out the pianist's F minor concerto recording with Eugene Ormandy on LP. The remaining selections (including the Second Scherzo) date from 1975 and encompassed Ax's third RCA LP release.

For
Read more the most part, the performances remain quite persuasive. The only drawback to Ax's large-scaled, full-bodied, and cannily proportioned Ballades is the strident, metallic sound quality, especially at loud climaxes. Ax simply does not sound this way live. Indeed, his 2005 concert performances of the Ballades have significantly ripened in nuance and pacing, and he ought to re-record them. The 1970s sessions reproduce Ax's tone more naturally and realistically. You might wish for a little more thrust and momentum throughout the Polonaise-Fantasie and Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, although the pianist's superbly defined right-hand filigree and strong dynamic support from the left hand must not go unmentioned.

The Second Scherzo features incisively wrought outer sections that contrast to an introspective, drawn-out espressivo section in the Trio (Ax's remake recaptures this quality with more expressive economy). While there are fleeter, more sharply etched Fourth Scherzos to be had (Yundi Li, the young Ashkenazy, Horowitz on 78s), there's a sparkle and spontaneity in Ax's earlier version that he didn't quite recapture 12 years later. Ax's direct, musicianly First and Third Scherzos hold their own in the face of more individualized, demonic competitors (Pletnev, Pogorelich, Hough, for example), and the B major Nocturne's long trills are suaver and sexier than I remember.

If the Nouvelles Etudes seem a little square and generic compared to Ax's best work, his Mazurka playing oozes charm, textural diversity, and rhythmic lilt. Even the reflective Op. 56 No. 3's gorgeously spun legato lines stand out for their definition and inner strength. Again, it's that bedrock, cello-like left hand, as if Ax were channeling his regular sonata partner Yo-Yo Ma. No doubt Chopin would have approved.

--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1. Ballade for Piano no 1 in G minor, B 66/Op. 23 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1831-1835 
Date of Recording: 07/1985 
Venue:  Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK 
Length: 9 Minutes 55 Secs. 
2. Ballade for Piano no 2 in F major/a minor, B 102/Op. 38 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1836-1839; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 07/1985 
Venue:  Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK 
Length: 7 Minutes 4 Secs. 
3. Ballade for Piano no 3 in A flat major, B 136/Op. 47 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840-1841; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 07/1985 
Venue:  Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK 
Length: 7 Minutes 50 Secs. 
4. Ballade for Piano no 4 in F minor, B 146/Op. 52 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 07/1985 
Venue:  Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK 
Length: 11 Minutes 44 Secs. 
5. Scherzo for Piano no 1 in B minor, B 65/Op. 20 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1831-1832; Poland 
Date of Recording: 09/12/1987 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 9 Minutes 56 Secs. 
6. Scherzo for Piano no 2 in B flat minor/D flat major, B 111/Op. 31 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 12/13/1977 
Venue:  Studio A, RCA Studios, New York City, NY 
Length: 10 Minutes 7 Secs. 
7. Scherzo for Piano no 3 in C sharp minor, B 125/Op. 39 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Mallorca (Majorca),  
Date of Recording: 09/12/1987 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 7 Minutes 40 Secs. 
8. Scherzo for Piano no 4 in E major, B 148/Op. 54 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 11/1975 
Venue:  Studio A, RCA Studios, New York City, NY 
Length: 10 Minutes 58 Secs. 
9. Mazurkas (4) for Piano, B 89/Op. 24: no 2 in C major by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1834-1835; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 09/12/1987 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 1 Minutes 58 Secs. 
10. Mazurkas (3) for Piano, B 153/Op. 56: no 3 in C minor by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1843; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 09/12/1987 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 6 Minutes 50 Secs. 
11. Mazurkas (3) for Piano, B 157/Op. 59: no 1 in A minor by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 09/12/1987 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 4 Minutes 0 Secs. 
12. Mazurkas (3) for Piano, B 157/Op. 59: no 2 in A flat major by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 09/12/1987 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 2 Minutes 38 Secs. 
13. Mazurkas (3) for Piano, B 157/Op. 59: no 3 in F sharp minor by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 09/12/1987 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London, England 
Length: 3 Minutes 34 Secs. 
14. Andante spianato et Grand polonaise brillante in E flat major, Op. 22 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1830-1831; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/1975 
Venue:  Studio A, RCA Studios, New York City, NY 
Length: 13 Minutes 35 Secs. 
15. Nocturnes (2) for Piano, B 161/Op. 62: no 1 in B major by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1846; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 11/1975 
Venue:  Studio A, RCA Studios, New York City, NY 
Length: 7 Minutes 4 Secs. 
16. Nouvelles Etudes (3) for Piano, B 130: no 1 in f minor by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 12/13/1977 
Venue:  Studio A, RCA Studios, New York City, NY 
Length: 2 Minutes 24 Secs. 
17. Nouvelles Etudes (3) for Piano, B 130: no 3 in D flat major by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 12/13/1977 
Venue:  Studio A, RCA Studios, New York City, NY 
Length: 1 Minutes 39 Secs. 
18. Nouvelles Etudes (3) for Piano, B 130: no 2 in A flat major by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 12/13/1977 
Venue:  Studio A, RCA Studios, New York City, NY 
Length: 2 Minutes 12 Secs. 
19. Polonaise-fantaisie for Piano in A flat major, B 159/Op. 61 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845-1846; Poland 
Date of Recording: 11/1975 
Venue:  Studio A, RCA Studios, New York City, NY 
Length: 13 Minutes 20 Secs. 

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