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CD Review

Frédéric Chopin

  • Ballades
  • #1 in G minor, Op. 23
  • #2 in F Major, Op. 38
  • #3 in A Flat Major, Op. 47
  • #4 in F minor, Op. 52
  • Concerto #2 in F minor, Op. 21
Lise de la Salle, piano
Staatskapelle Dresden/Fabio Luisi
Naïve V5215
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I thought it might be interesting to draw up comparisons in overall timings in several sets of the Chopin Ballades, since this Lise de la Salle effort was rather unusual in that respect. So here it is:

#1 #2 #3 #4
Maurizio Pollini 8:35 6:51 6:38 9:55
Andrei Gavrilov 8:47 7:08 6:52 10:16
Vladimir Ashkenazy 9:47 7:38 7:29 11:20
Krystian Zimerman 9:33 7:43 7:26 11:54
Yevgeny Kissin 9:52 7:38 8:00 11:41
Idil Biret 9:55 7:35 7:38 12:10
Lise de la Salle 11:14 8:20 8:00 13:54

As the reader can see, de la Salle is the slowest overall by far, and the slowest in each individual Ballade with the exception of #3, where Kissin clocks in at the identical timing. Pollini is 9:15 faster in the overall set, and Gavrilov slightly over eight minutes quicker. Those are significant differences, but from an artistic point of view, you ask, what do these comparisons mean? Well, you obviously can't judge a performance by a stopwatch, but the stopwatch does give you a sense, especially in extreme cases, of the artist's interpretive stance. Here, de la Salle is ever the sensitive, searching artist, less concerned about the pulse or sense of flow in the music than most other pianists. Thus, she does capture many lyrical moments with loving tenderness, especially in #1. But occasionally she turns a bit mechanical, as in Ballade #3. Yet here she can also turn fiery: indeed, this performance has the most conventional tempos and is often quite spirited. #4 borders on the mechanical at times also; yet de la Salle can suddenly turn away from near-stasis to mystery and ethereality and infuse life into the music. Overall, this set will have appeal to those seeking out a sensitive, unhurried view of these Chopin masterpieces, despite the pianist's occasional lapses. Certainly de la Salle is preferable to Gavrilov and competitive with most of the others, though I would take Kissin as my first choice in the Ballades.

As for the Chopin Second Concerto, de la Salle's tempos in this live performance from September, 2009 at the Semperoper Dresden are more mainstream: though her first movement is a tad on the slow side, her second movement Larghetto, at 9:12, is the briskest I've encountered, with the exception of the Argerich/Rostropovich. In any event, de la Salle turns in a fine performance and Fabio Luisi draws excellent playing from the Dresden State Orchestra. (As a little footnote to the career of Fabio Luisi – he suddenly resigned in February as conductor of the Dresden State Orchestra and its parent, Saxton State Opera, over various disagreements.) The sound reproduction on the both the solo and orchestral works is excellent. This is the 22-year-old Ms. de la Salle's third recording for Naïve, the other two containing solo works by Mozart and Prokofiev, and concertos by Prokofiev, Liszt and Shostakovich. I reviewed the latter a couple of years ago, giving it a positive notice. This Chopin CD also deserves a recommendation. Ms. De la Salle may well enjoy a major career on the concert stage.

Copyright © 2010, Robert Cummings.