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A Prayer for Poland: Chamber Music of Frederic Chopin

Chopin / Wissick / Willis / Luby
Release Date: 08/13/2013 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1429   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Brent WissickAndrew WilliisRichard Luby
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHOPIN Introduction and Polonaise in C, op.3 1. Cello Sonata 2. Piano Trio in g, op. 8 3 1-3 Brent Wissick (vc); 1-3 Andrew Willis (pn); 3 Richard Luby (vn) (period instruments) Read more class="ARIAL12"> ALBANY 1429 (60:20)

Why, at this particular moment in history, the Polish nation and her people should be in need of some special entreaty to the Almighty I don’t know, but the title of this album, A Prayer for Poland , suggests they are. I suppose a little prayer can’t hurt, but if anything, this release ought to be an offering in memoriam to violinist Richard Luby, who died unexpectedly on January 29, 2013, just three weeks after this recording was made. The three players listed in the headnote are (or were, in the case of Luby) members of the music faculty at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The disc contains all but one of Chopin’s chamber works with cello; absent is the Grand Duo concertante in E Major, B 70, written in 1832 in collaboration with cellist Auguste Franchomme. Combining these works on record is not unprecedented. In fact, all four of them were fit onto a single Hyperion CD (now available on Helios) by Garrick Ohlsson, Carter Brey, and Leila Josefowicz. What makes this release different is that the works are performed on period instruments. Andrew Willis plays an 1848 piano by Pleyel, an instrument built after Chopin’s death, but by a maker whose earlier instruments were near and dear to the composer’s heart; while in the Trio, Richard Luby is heard playing a 1757 violin by Cremona maker Michelangelo Bergonzi. Oddly, unless I missed it somewhere in the fine print, the maker of Brent Wissick’s cello is not named, but in his self-authored program note, Wissick speaks of the pleasure it gave him to play on gut strings and explore 19th-century techniques of cello playing.

I’ve marveled before at Chopin’s magnificent G-Minor Piano Trio, and lamented the fact that he composed so little chamber music. Once again, the miracle of the music is made manifest, this time in a performance that highlights the heterogeneity of the instruments, while simultaneously softening and blending their sonorities in an especially warm glow.

Richard Luby in the Trio and Brent Wissick in all three works, using a minimum of vibrato on sustained notes and sailing smartly through Chopin’s dazzling passagework, manage to bring off their parts with pitch-perfect intonation and not a hint of roughness of tone that’s often occasioned by bows drawn across gut strings. But impressive as the two string players are, the special star of this show is Andrew Willis’s Pleyel, an instrument whose high notes ring out with an almost celesta-like chime, and whose midrange has a velveteen quality.

Chopin composed both the Introduction and Polonaise and the Piano Trio in 1829 at the tender age of 19. Each in its own way is a work of a budding musical genius, but the Trio, in particular is a masterpiece of the genre, which, in my opinion, needn’t take a backseat to Mendelssohn’s two piano trios of 1839 and 1845. The Introduction and Polonaise , attractive as it is belongs to a different class of work. It’s a virtuoso entertainment piece composed to showcase the talents of a particular cellist—one Joseph Merk—and intended to be performed at the musical soirees popular at the time. Yet listening to the piece, one can’t help but feel a degree of sympathy for Brent Wissick, for as expertly as he navigates the tricky cello part, Chopin couldn’t help being Chopin; his writing for the piano simply upstages the cello in its dazzling glitter.

The Piano Trio is a work of greater depth and seriousness. For reasons we’ll never know, Chopin didn’t turn again to taking up chamber music in a major way until towards the end of his life, when he composed his Cello Sonata in 1846. Franchomme was again the dedicatee, but as with the Trio, the Sonata is a work of large dimensions, intense emotions, and urgent drama. One senses that Chopin knew he was on his way out.

This is a fantastic CD, distinguished by magnificent performances of these works by three outstanding artists and by a recording of vivid presence and sound quality. Very strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Introduction and Polonaise for Cello and Piano in C major, Op. 3 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Brent Wissick (Cello), Andrew Williis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829-1830; Poland 
Notes: 1848 Pleyel piano 
Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, B 160/Op. 65 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Brent Wissick (Cello), Andrew Williis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845-1846; Paris, France 
Notes: 1848 Pleyel piano 
Trio for Piano and Strings in G minor, B 25/Op. 8 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Andrew Williis (Piano), Brent Wissick (Cello), Richard Luby (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828-1829; Poland 
Notes: 1848 Pleyel piano 

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