Notes and Editorial Reviews
Polonaises: in c?,
op. 40/1, “Military”;
op. 53, “Heroic.”
Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante. Polonaise-Fantaisie
Folke Nauta (pn)
BRILLIANT 93995 (77:14)
Chopin’s polonaises perhaps are the most notably Polish of all his works. Even more so than in the mazurkas, Chopin presents the polonaises as his calling card as a Polish patriot. Not that nationalism is the only reason for these works’ existence. Chopin used the form at times for some of his most profound, even existential, utterances. Nevertheless, over the years the most successful recordings of these works often have been by native Poles. There is something about speaking Polish and knowing the country’s folk culture that gives native pianists an edge in interpreting this music. The polonaises are saturated with Polish rhythms and harmonies. To play the polonaises without knowing these things can be like performing
Rhapsody in Blue
without ever having heard jazz. Some of my favorite recordings of the polonaises are by the Poles Arthur Rubinstein, Alexander Brailowsky, Witold Malcuzynski, and Adam Harasiewicz. As a contrast, the excellent recordings by Maurizio Pollini, while beautifully played and thought-out, are slightly lacking in spirit. Which brings me now to the instance of the Dutch pianist Folke Nauta.
The current CD contains no biographical information about the pianist, but Nauta does have a detailed Web site, folkenauta.com. He first came to national attention in his native country at age 33, upon winning first prize and the Dutch Press Prize in the 1994 Scheveningen International Music Competition. This was followed by a period of study in Paris with Eugen Indjic. Central to Nauta’s repertoire are the major Romantic composers, particularly Schumann, Brahms, and Grieg. He has toured in a duo with the violinist Janine Jansen, including a visit to Carnegie Hall. The present CD was recorded in Rotterdam in 1998 by Brilliant Classics, and what we have here is a straightforward reissue of its 1999 release.
So, how does Folke Nauta deal with these most Polish of pieces? Stylistically, he does nothing unidiomatic. The rhythms feel natural, and all the melodies make their point. One would not mistake, though, these for the readings of a native Pole. Nauta’s approach is more cosmopolitan in sensibility, treating each work within the melos of the early-Romantic piano style. I find his interpretations highly successful. The recital opens with as fine a reading of the
Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise
as I ever have heard. It lacks the high drama of Horowitz’s recording, but Nauta’s version is grand in its own way. He possesses a sturdy technique, with a soft touch that is especially appropriate to early Romantic music. The work proceeds with immense graciousness and a liberal but telling use of rubato. I like Nauta’s performance at least as much as Alfred Brendel’s 1968 version in his recent release of recordings by the BBC.
The two named polonaises, the “Military” and the “Heroic,” are given suave, beautifully controlled performances without the least bit of idiosyncracy. Nauta plays them as if we haven’t heard them already a million times. In the unnamed polonaises, Nauta frequently brings out the darker side of Chopin’s imagination, not just setting out the pretty melodies. This trait is particularly notable in op. 26/1, while the left-hand melody in op. 40/2 is quite sinister. Nauta is that rare animal, a Chopin pianist who knows how to use his left hand. Sonorities frequently appear freshly minted, with the sound of the works being just as important as the rhythms and the shapes of the melodies. Sometimes Nauta slows up for a second subject, an old Romantic practice, but he never loses his feeling for the architecture of the works.
The last piece on the program, the
, is the only performance I have a reservation about. Nauta pays scrupulous attention to the rhythms and polyphony of the music, and builds up to a satisfying conclusion. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that the overall atmosphere of this rendition is as poetic as that of my favorite recording by Stephen Kovacevich (then still known as Stephen Bishop), on a Philips LP. Kovacevich is more willing to bend and shape a rhythm to create a sort of polonaise montage. With this sole caveat, I am mightily impressed with Folke Nauta’s assumption of the mantle of high-Romantic pianism, and feel that his performances deserve a place near, if not quite alongside, those by my favorite Poles. Brilliant Classics has provided very good sound, though mastered at a slightly low level. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
Works on This Recording
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