This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Chopin's concertos in a marvelous chamber music setting with Gianluca Luisi playing a 1901 Steinway that achieves a sonority reminiscent of a Chickering piano and the Concertant Frankfurt Ensemble, whose members stress beauty of tone and the give and take between soloist and ensemble.
I recently reviewed a piano and string quintet arrangement of Chopin’s Second Concerto featuring pianist Cyprien Katsaris. That arrangement was by the American pianist David Lively, and its main feature was the transparency of the multiple instrumental voices. What pianist Gianluca Luisi gives us is somewhat different. This album featuresRead more arrangements for piano and string quintet of both concertos, as presented by Chopin’s German publisher. Did Chopin prepare the arrangements? I don’t know, although I suspect he approved of his publisher’s actions. These performances with the excellent Ensemble Concertant Frankfurt, whose members come from the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, stress beauty of tone and the give and take between Luca and the quintet. Luca plays a 1901 Steinway, a less aggressive sounding instrument than its modern counterpart. It achieves a more harp-like sonority, resembling the Chickering, a piano made by Mason and Hamlin. Luca plays this instrument with considerable understanding; his performances of the concertos are far from the powerhouse versions of Pollini and Argerich. Perhaps someday we’ll hear a period instrument rendition of these arrangements of the concertos, although what Luca and his colleagues offer us certainly has validity in its own right.
The First Concerto begins with a stentorian, truly maestoso statement of the opening tutti from the quintet, with beautiful solo playing. Luca establishes his flexibility of phrasing in his first statement. He maintains the long line of the movement superbly. Luca never rushes; his playing always has a sense of ease. The movement’s big romantic tune is given a lot of air. The quintet presents a tonal loveliness that would be very hard for a full orchestra to match. The second movement is a heartbreaking romance. The pianist relates the story of a love affair in the most intimate and sensitive terms, embellishing sometimes—while the quintet comments on the tale. Luca’s understanding of Chopin’s harmonic language here is exceptional. Eventually the narrative trails off and ends in a sigh from the piano. In the concluding rondo, Luca’s playing is brilliant and galant, without ever becoming mechanical. He displays the suppleness that Chopin said was key to his style.
In the Second Concerto, the opening tutti feels sensitive, even Schubertian. A tragic note is struck from the pianist’s opening phrases. Luca’s playing evinces no mere surface brilliance. The harmonically poisonous quality of romance depicted here gives a foretaste of Verklärte Nacht. Toward the movement’s end, the pianist almost offers a plea for pity, but his fate is ineradicable. The second movement is a haunting love song. Luca phrases with smoothness and assurance, a little like Dean Martin. The cryptic quality of the string tremolo passage seems derived from the slow movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. In the final movement, the pianist appears wistful and thoughtful, sometimes entertaining a rush of ideas. Luca plays the mazurka-like passage most idiomatically. The coda, as in vaudeville, offers a big finish, although a cloud hangs over it.
I was unable to hear the SACD layer of this recording. The CD layer offers very ingratiating sound. The strings are forward, while the piano is slightly recessed in a resonant acoustic. The engineering highlights one of the issues with CD sound of a piano. CDs still cannot match acoustically the best analog LPs of a piano. Digital engineers usually have to choose between details from a piano or a fuller, less specific perspective. It’s a judgment call, and the best CDs of a piano, as in the present case, can be very appealing. In sum, Gianluca Luisi and his colleagues have given us marvelous Chopin. I doubt these renditions will supplant recordings of the concertos with full orchestra, but what we have here is a marvelous way on its own terms to hear these works. Not only do we need to have solo Chopin from Luca, but we also would benefit by having more chamber music repertoire from this entire ensemble. I enjoyed this disc immensely.
For those who love chamber music and ChopinJanuary 5, 2014By mike b. (burnaby, BC)See All My Reviews"very enjoyable listening when you don't want the big sound of an orchestra in your room. Works very well for me, and the piano sounds especially good in a hall like setting."Report Abuse