Notes and Editorial Reviews
Ballades: No. 1 in g; No. 2 in F; No. 3 in A?; No. 4 in f. Nocturnes: No. 1 in b?; No. 2 in E?; No. 3 in B; No. 20a in c?. Prelude No. 25 in c?
Arthur Schoonderwoerd (pn) (period instrument)
ALPHA 147 (61:49)
There are two factors that set Arthur Schoonderwoerd’s Chopin disc apart from most others, and their importance is likely to vary significantly depending on your point of view. First, the four ballades are separated by individual nocturnes and preceded by a single prelude, the idea suggested in
the notes being that the temporary change to smaller forms helps to reset the ears in preparation for the more complex and formally idiosyncratic ballades. Second, the instrument on the disc is not a modern concert grand, but an instrument contemporaneous with the composer, fashioned by Ignace Pleyel in 1839.
Schoonderwoerd’s accounts of these classics are marked by slower tempos and less rhythmic flexibility than those of most other pianists. The dynamic range is also narrower than what we are accustomed to, although this trait could be the result of his choice of the Pleyel keyboard. The instrument might also be at least partly responsible for his relatively intimate readings, a characteristic that is often quite fetching in lower dynamic levels but is less convincing in grander moments.
This emphasis on metric clarity over excessive rubato is especially noteworthy in the Fourth Ballade, which begins with a waltz almost steady enough in pulse to serve as accompaniment to a dance. The G-Minor Ballade is the slowest I’ve heard, rivaled in length only by Krystian Zimerman among major pianists on disc. His patience can be frustrating at times, lending a certain cautious calculation to music that benefits from at least a measure of impetuosity and an illusion of risk. On the other hand, there is a clarity to textures and rhythms that can be quite illuminating, even if momentum tends to be in short supply.
The four nocturnes and the single prelude are treated with a shade more flexibility, but again somewhat less than is the current norm. Here the delicacy of the instrument pays dividends, although the reduction in sustaining sound gives these beauties a skeletal aura that may not be to everyone’s liking. Tempos are closer to standard, a wise strategy given the thinner sustainability.
My favorite recordings of the ballades (Ax, Rubenstein, and Kissin) and nocturnes (Moravec and Pollini) haven’t been supplanted by Schoonderwoerd, but his view is a legitimate one, and well worth a listen by Chopin devotees. If you have an interest in hearing this music on a keyboard from the composer’s era, all the more reason to give it a shot.
FANFARE: Michael Cameron
Works on This Recording
Prelude No. 25 in C sharp minor, Op. 45
Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
Nocturne No. 3 in B major, Op. 9, No. 3
Ballade No. 3 in A flat major, Op. 47
Nocturne No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 9, No. 1
Ballade No. 2 in F major, Op. 38
Nocturne No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 9, No. 2
Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52
Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, Op. posth.
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