Chopin Reminiscences - Pizarro - International Record Review

Before the fact, this disc promises well: a serious, gifted pianist in a mixed Chopin recital, with the pieces grouped in an order that is clear and effective. Artur Pizarro begins with four of the Valses, three of them familiar and one (the early E flat, Op. posth.) rarely played. The almost too frequently heard Fantaisie-Impromptu then acts as a transition to a centrepiece comprising four of the Nocturnes, of which the early, posthumous C sharp minor is by now well known. Too substantial to sound like another interlude, the 'heroic' A flat major Polonaise breaks the reflective mood and prepares a group of four Mazurkas that both balance and contrast with the opening Valses. The B flat minor Scherzo, differently heroic from the previous Polonaise, brings the programme to a virtuosic and stirring conclusion.

The only pieces where I had a problem with Pizarro's interpretations are, surprisingly, the two longer Valses. In the brilliant, extrovert, Opp.18 and 34 No.1, his technique is more than equal to their pianistic demands but musically they are overcharacterized, with the individual subsections sounding exaggeratedly different. As with variations, the challenge to the performer is not one of contrast (which the composer has already taken care of) but, rather, continuity. With regard to style, Piazarro almost turns a Valse by Chopin into a Walzer by Johan Strauss II. Strauss's marvellous waltz-sequences owe much to Chopin's extended form, but their Viennese rhythmic inflexion is quite different. By contrast, Pizarro indulges the nostalgic quality of Op.69 No.1 so that the lack of s steady pulse disembodies and sentimentalizes its main theme.

The four Nocturnes are much more successful. The late B major is sustained, inward, absolutely right. Likewise the posthumous C sharp minor, even if Pizarro chooses to suppress the whimsical quality of the miniature mazurka within it. The 6/8 metre of the lovely D flat major Nocturne is taken virtually in six, yet the result is strangely hypnotic. Here, risk comes down decidedly on the side of reward. The four Mazurkas go equally well. The early F major, Op.68 No.3, is played with touching simplicity, though again Pizarro seems reluctant to allow the tinkly Trio section its piquant, tangy character.
The two larger works provide the welcome substance, and Pizarro's way of playing each one is complementary. In the A flar Polonaise he is in full control of the mass and density of Chopin's texture, yet he conveys to the listener the physical expenditure involved in delivering it. The B flat minor Scherzo sounds effortless, yet in no sense does Pizarro 'throw the piece away'.

The CD is called 'Reminiscences' (misspelled on the actual disc). Superficially, this might refer to the Nocturnes or the Valse, Op.69 No.1, but the subtitle has an aura of 'Chopin by candlelight' unworthy of the composer and the pianist, which could send a wrong signal to some prospective purchasers. This programme is similar in kind to but different in detail from many other all-Chopin recitals. The reason to acquire it is the overall distinction of Pizarro's playing. Its back panel features an early twentienth-century painting of Chopin 'after contrmporary portrait', which somehow manages to make him look like a bemused Franz Schubert without the spectacles. Are they both imagining SACD enhancement of the very true CD sound?

01 March 2005