In this recital, Alain Planès plays a particularly sweet-toned Pleyel piano made in 1836. He does much more. Planès attempts to re-create Chopin’s part of a concert given on April 26, 1841, a concert that was reviewed by Liszt in the Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris. (The notes here include a photograph of the first page of that magazine, and I confess I read the tiny print of Liszt’s review before I realized it was also reproduced in the enclosed booklet.) This was a gala evening: The large salon of M. Pleyel, Liszt reports, was splendidly lit; the elegant guests were composed of especially beautiful woman, men “les plus à la mode,” the richest financiers and most distinguished aristocrats, and last and probably least, the most famous artists of the time. They crushed in to see a man who was more than a mere famous pianist, more than a virtuoso. When Liszt tried to say what that more was, he merely says the man’s name: It was Chopin. The program has been reconstructed from notes and reviews at the time. Chopin wasn’t alone on stage; his solo works were interspersed with songs sung by Pauline Viardot and by the playing of cellist Auguste Franchomme. Chopin played his own pieces with the evidently subtle variations he liked to introduce; evidently none of his pieces were completely fixed in his own mind. He passed some of those amendments on to his students, who wrote them down.
Here Planès re-creates some of those amendments while playing as much as possible in the manner he feels Chopin must have. He plays ravishingly. The sound of the Pleyel piano, softer and more mellow than a modern piano, is nonetheless powerful enough for the pianist to convey the insistent chords of the ninth prelude, for instance. I think the strongest pieces are nonetheless the nocturnes, as in the Nocturne, op. 27/2, which the gentle precision of the instrument and of the playing makes inexpressibly touching. I find the initial tempo of the Ballade too slow, and it is slightly unnerving to hear individual preludes when we are used to hearing the set in order. But Planès is a remarkable musician, who in his varied career has accompanied János Starker and soloed with Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain. His Chopin recital is like no other that I know, and not merely for the occasionally rolled chord.
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