Notes and Editorial Reviews
François Chaplin (pn)
100203.2 (2 CDs: 110:58)
François Chaplin is a pianist who is new to me, although he has been recording for more than a decade. He is a professor at the Conservatoire de Rayonnement Régional in Versailles. His most prominent teacher was the estimable Jean-Claude Pennetier. Chaplin won prizes in two prominent piano competitions, but there has been no breakthrough event along his path leading to a major career.
Rather, he is one of those pianists who has slowly built up esteem, especially through recordings. One such project was the complete piano music of Debussy, which seems like superb preparation for tackling Chopin’s nocturnes, so similar are their sonic orbits. On the basis of this Chopin album, I would say that Chaplin has reached an artistic peak.
Chaplin possesses a rich, full tone, which he deploys with a great deal of subtlety. On the surface, his readings of the nocturnes remind me of Claudio Arrau’s in their tonal sumptuousness. This aspect of the recording is enhanced by the use of a beautiful Yamaha piano, spaciously recorded in a Paris church. The Yamaha produces a gorgeous tonal blend throughout its frequency range, captured truthfully by the recorded sound. Chaplin’s feeling for the architecture of the nocturnes is profound. In the ternary pieces, one never has the sense that any section is out of proportion to the others. Here is highly sophisticated playing, yet the overall interpretive effect is to produce readings that are central in the works’ performance traditions. Nothing exotic happens, yet to paraphrase Charles Rosen, Chaplin accomplishes everything while appearing not to do anything remarkable at all.
Chaplin has decided not to play the nocturnes in their published order. He keeps sets of the nocturnes together by opus number, but otherwise he arranges them, in his words, “to emphasize the diversity and modernity of the nocturnes.” I find his ordering highly successful. Chaplin starts with op. 48/1, choosing a slow and stately tempo for the beginning with a pronounced bass. The B section has suitable grandeur. In op. 15/1, Chaplin’s pedaling gives the A section an angelic quality. For op. 15/3, he employs subtle hesitations in his phrasing of the opening melody, giving it the rhythmic feel of a mazurka. Op. 27/2 receives a ravishing, inward performance. The darkness of the three posthumous nocturnes is mirrored in Chaplin’s tonal shadings. Op. 32/2, as befits a selection from
, comes off as an ethereal yet passionate dance.
Op. 55/2 has a harp-like accompaniment in the left hand, accentuated tonally by a judicious use of pedal. Op. 37/1 has an unusually Polish aura, especially in the handling of its ornamentation. The delicacy in the performance of op. 9/1 reminds me of Guiomar Novaes’s interpretation. The program ends with op. 62, presumably Chopin’s last nocturnes. Here, in Chaplin’s words, “the accommodation of the bel canto spirit to the keyboard reaches a fabulous peak.” Indeed, op. 62/1 unfolds in large part like a long aria. Op. 62/2 has an almost orchestral variety of color.
I found this recording improved in power and nuance on each repeated hearing. With sets of the nocturnes available from such great figures as Rubinstein and Arrau, it may seem presumptuous to recommend a set by someone with the comparatively low profile of François Chaplin. Yet I think I honestly can say that I rarely have enjoyed these pieces so much, while the sound engineering is something to rejoice in. Clearly we need to hear more from François Chaplin, so compelling is his artistry.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
Works on This Recording
Nocturne No. 13 in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1
Nocturne No. 14 in F sharp minor, Op. 48, No. 2
Nocturne No. 4 in F major, Op. 15, No. 1
Nocturne No. 5 in F sharp major, Op. 15, No. 2
Nocturne No. 6 in G minor, Op. 15, No. 3
Nocturne No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 1
Nocturne No. 8 in D flat major, Op. 27, No. 2
Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, Op. posth.
Nocturne No. 9 in B major, Op. 32, No. 1
Nocturne No. 10 in A flat major, Op. 32, No. 2
Nocturne No. 15 in F minor, Op. 55, No. 1
Nocturne No. 16 in E flat major, Op. 55, No. 2
Nocturne No. 11 in G minor, Op. 37, No. 1
Nocturne No. 12 in G major, Op. 37, No. 2
Nocturne No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 9, No. 1
Nocturne No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 9, No. 2
Nocturne No. 3 in B major, Op. 9, No. 3
Nocturne No. 19 in E minor, Op. 72, No. 1
Nocturne No. 21 in C minor, Op. posth.
Nocturne No. 17 in B major, Op. 62, No. 1
Nocturne No. 18 in E major, Op. 62, No. 2
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