Krystian Zimerman was in his early twenties when he recorded the Chopin concertos for DG two decades ago, with Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. For his long-anticipated remakes the 43-year-old virtuoso directs the Polish Festival Orchestra from the keyboard, an ensemble he founded and trained from scratch. Last month Harriet Smith charted the course of their lengthy, painstaking rehearsals which were followed by sessions for the recording in hand and a three-month concert tour.
Are the results worth all the extraordinary effort (and no doubt expense) that went into this project, as well as the extra cost to the consumer (the performances being just too long toRead more fit on to a single disc) ? In many ways, the answer is yes. Helped by DG’s exquisite engineering, Chopin’s oft-maligned orchestrations emerge with the clarity of a venerable painting scrubbed clean and fully restored. Not one string phrase escapes unaccounted for, as is borne out in the dynamic micro-shadings of the E minor’s opening tutti, or the scrupulously worked-out turns and embellishments elsewhere. Every dynamic indication and accent mark is freshly considered, and each orchestral strand is weighed and contoured in order for each instrument to be heard, or, at least, to make itself felt. Some listeners may find the strings’ ardent vibrato and liberal portamentos more cloying than heartfelt, yet the vocal transparency Zimerman elicits from his musicians underscores the crucial influence of bel canto singing on this composer.
Zimerman’s ultra-polished fingerwork and colouristic gifts stress Chopin’s jewel-like symmetry and lyric beauty. If he downplays many of the composer’s dynamic surges and enlivening accents, he compensates with carefully pinpointed climaxes in both concertos’ slow movements. The slow timings, incidentally, have less to do with fast versus slow than the pianist’s insidiously spaced ritardandos and broadening of tempos between sections. More often than not he lets his right hand lead, rather than building textures from the bottom up, or bringing out inner voices as Argerich does in her more forceful, impulsive renditions. By contrast, some of Zimerman’s salient expressive points have calcified rather than ripened with age. Having said that, Zimerman has clear ideas of what he wants, and commands the formidable means to obtain the desired results, both at the keyboard and in front of his hand-picked musicians. In a year rich with offerings to celebrate Chopin’s 150th anniversary, Zimerman’s achievement stands out like a proudly hand-crafted valentine.
These performances will doubtless provoke very extreme and opposite reactions among listeners. Krystian Zimerman built an orchestra from scratch for the sole purpose of recording(and touring with) both Chopin concertos. He obviously loves this music madly and wants to share his passion for it. Rehearsals must have been very strenuous, as these recordings easily prove. Though not an experienced conductor, Zimerman demands and receives the best from each and every player of his own ensemble, with amazing results in terms of sheer commitment and quality of execution. You won't hear a single note in these recordings that hasn't been carefully meditated over and lovingly sounded. Never before has Chopin's thin orchestration appeared so interesting and well crafted. The strings play with an intense vibrato, the woodwinds with rare delicacy.
Thanks to his double role as pianist and conductor, Zimerman can take extreme liberties with the music, establishing a true dialog with the orchestra and giving to almost every phrase a different character and color. And it works. Even the purely ornamental passages sound expressive, like unending melodies instead of empty moments filling up the transitions. Here is Chopin the improviser and lover of bel canto, the piano virtuoso and the passionate young man, the classic and the romantic all at once. The tempos are incredibly flexible, though slower than most other recordings, but the rhythms always move, maintaining the required drive and liveliness. The Allegro maestoso of the First Concerto lasts almost 25 minutes, and the whole concerto 46 minutes! Inside this vast architecture, Zimerman leaves room for every detail, with an abundance of exquisite sonorities, velvety dynamics and wonderful pianistic technique. Rarely has his tone sounded with such beauty and caressing nuance, even if his fortissimo retains (in places) its usual metallic quality. Overall, these performances give new life to works that have been too often routinely played. The sound recording is spacious and well balanced, though sometimes on the verge of harshness. The two concertos come on two CDs for the price of one.
Concerto for Piano no 1 in E minor, B 53/Op. 11by Frédéric Chopin Performer:
Krystian Zimerman (Piano)
Polish Festival Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1830; Poland Date of Recording: 08/1999 Venue: Giovanni Agnelli Auditorium, Torino Length: 46 Minutes 0 Secs.
Concerto for Piano no 2 in F minor, B 43/Op. 21by Frédéric Chopin Performer:
Krystian Zimerman (Piano)
Polish Festival Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1829-1830; Poland Date of Recording: 08/1999 Venue: Giovanni Agnelli Auditorium, Torino Length: 35 Minutes 44 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
DisappointedFebruary 13, 2015By J Robert Brookens (Lawrence, KS)See All My Reviews"I read the Gramophone review (or jacket?) of the CD and could hardly wait, so I purchased it. The playing and interpretations are wonderful. The recording quality, however, sounds like a recording from the mid '50s. There's a reason it is not Arkiv's recommended version of these concertos. I wish I'd looked a bit farther. I've never been disappointed with Arkiv Music's recommendations."Report Abuse