"I have been told," wrote Mark Twain in his autobiography, "that Wagner's music is better than it sounds."
I am often reminded of that remark when I read the convoluted apologetics some writers feel compelled to make for the weak orchestration in Chopin's two piano concertos. Which, given there is no conclusive evidence that Chopin orchestrated them himself, is a rather odd compulsion.
This fascinating new disc offers arrangements of the concertos for piano (the solo part is identical) and string quintet – consisting of quartet plus double bass – as offered for sale by Chopin's German publishers. There is no direct evidence that Chopin was responsible for these versions either, although he is known to have performed the concertos in chamber settings.
Are these more than simply historical curiosities? Heretical though it may be, I find them actually rather more rewarding than the "originals"; the more intimate nature of chamber playing makes for a more fluid performance, in keeping with what is known of the style Chopin and many of his contemporaries; moreover, textures are clearer and, while the piano still tends to dominate – these are not the only 19th century piano quintets in which that is the case (stand up Johannes Brahms!) – it is less problematic than in the fuller version.
BIS are to be congratulated for this pioneering disc; I am no familiar with any of the performers, but the playing is fresh and extremely sympathetic.
The recording itself is up to BIS's usual very high standard and the liner notes are more than usually informative.
Will it replace the official versions with orchestra? #Nor shall I rush to sell (for instance) my Pollini #1.
I do strongly suspect, however, that next time I want to listen to one of the Chopin concertos, this is the disc I'll turn to.
Copyright © 1997, Deryk Barker