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CD Review

Frédéric Chopin

Piano Music

  • Walses (14)
  • Barcarolle
  • Nocturne Op. 27 #2
  • Mazurka Op. 50 #3
Dinu Lipatti, piano
EMI 66956
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When I was growing up, my father had a few classical LPs in his collection. One was Lipatti playing the Grieg and Schumann piano concertos. I remember the sound was thin and Gawd-awful. I wondered what possessed the man to get it. Now I know that he was usually guided in these matters by Martin Bookspan's reviews that used to appear in Consumer's Report. I was glad to see those issued in the Philips series. Since I didn't get a review copy, I'll add that I am glad I purchased the set. The concertos are really excellent, the best performances I know. There were many solo pieces as well, two of which are duplicated on this EMI set, the Barcarole and Nocturne.

Listening to the two discs provides a fascinating insight as to differences in remastering and how they affect the perception of the performances. The Philips recording is dryer. There is less reverberation. The result is that you hear details that are smudged in the EMI release. While that offers some insights, the clarity comes at a price. Ultimately, the fact is that the Philips release lacks the sense of "mystery" that the music gains in the EMI remastering. The EMI release, because it is more reverberant, is easier on the ear. This is a mind-boggling thing to my ears. The "sound" as presented on these discs virtually changes the music. I wonder if I might have reacted differently to the other solo music on the Philips disc (it left me cold) had the remastering been different. On the other hand, the Philips set also includes the Grieg and Schumann concertos, masterpieces if ever there were any.

How does Lipatti meet the claims to his fame that I have heard so much about? To be honest, I prefer Kapell, an exact contemporary (the complete Kapell Edition was reviewed by me and can be read elsewhere on this site… I notice the discs are being issued separately of late). Kapell is more romantic in his interpretations, and while I like that (his Bach foreshadows Gould) you may not. Kapell's Chopin is memorable, Lipatti's less so. Listening to Lipatti again this evening, I try to pinpoint what it is about his playing that does not move me. I notice that his playing is too staccato, always crisp and clear, but it is not involving, as is Kapell's liquid touch. I would not be without this EMI release, it offers the finest sound to date of the late pianist. On the other hand, I will likely use this disc for comparisons rather than pull it out for its own sake. If you prefer playing that is less romantic, you will probably like Lipatti more than I.

Copyright © 1999, Robert Stumpf II