Friday, October 1, 2010

In review--Chopin's Anniversary Year (1810-1849)

Cèdric Tiberghien
Chopin Mazurkas, Polonaise-Fantaisie, Scherzo and Nocturne
Harmonia Mundi

Listening to a Chopin piece feels like the equivalent to luxuriating in a delicious cup of tea. The Romantic era Polish composer/pianist’s compositions alternating between introspective and invigorating. His work centered on one instrument, the piano for the most part and this deeply expressive music can and does rival bigger orchestrated works of the Romantic Era. Perhaps Chopin represented the microcosm in relation to the macrocosm or the individual in relation to the whole. Even the piano/composer virtuoso Franz Liszt praised his contemporary.

In the CD liner notes, Lizst cites, “…By restricting himself to the exclusive framework of the piano, Chopin has in our view demonstrated one of the most essential qualities for an author: a sure appreciation of form in which he is capable of excelling.” A half a century after Chopin composed his music, French Impressionist composer Maurice Ravel noted, (speaking about Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie), “A frequent reproach: Chopin did not develop. So be it then. But if there is no development in his music, there is a splendid expansion…”

Besides his expressive music, the composer lived a fascinating life, the kind of life we would expect from a musician on the leading edge of European art. He experienced a dramatic love affair with the writer George Sands (a woman), lived on a Catalan island for a time, and suffered from a lung disease that eventually ended his life at the age of 39. We also know that despite spending his adult life in France, Chopin’s homeland, Poland was never far out of his mind and that's where the mazurkas come in, a nod towards his Polish lineage.

On Chopin Mazurkas, Polonaise-Fantaisie... pianist Cèdric Tiberghien plays Chopin’s masterpieces and mazurkas with gusto. It’s as if he’s using the keys on the piano as a musical weapon, ripe with theatrical emotions. On Scherzo, Tiberghien’s playing explodes with angry bursts, but on the following tracks, mazurkas, his playing takes on dream-like qualities as the pianist practically channels the spirit of the composer. These mazurkas though miniatures as the liner notes cite, feel as if they have the world contained within each note. There’s nothing small or minimalistic here, but a swelling of romantic emotions. The Polonaise-Fantaisie journeys through several moods and themes, and we can see why Ravel was fascinated with the piece.

Tiberghien refers to the opening of Polonaise-Fantaisie, “Prepare for an extraordinary journey,” and that could be said for the entire program that appears on the solo piano disc. In addition, in Chopin’s hands, the piano represented an orchestra, showing us what miracles the piano can perform. You can’t take the instrument for granted any longer after listening to this recording. And why would you?

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