Chopin News, Reviews, and Previews:

A Chopin extravaganza
Times Online – UK

Nice Times of London summation of the BBC Radio 3 Chopin Experience:

After the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky Experiences and the Bach Christmas it’s time for Frédéric Chopin to sit in a deckchair in the Elysian Fields, sip a piña colada and wince as Radio 3 exposes every recorded note he ever wrote (including the bad ones, as only a mediocre talent is always at its best).

What’s different about The Chopin Experience (from today, 7am) is that Radio 3 has not redrawn its usual programme schedule to accommodate it. Which throws up a few apparent anomalies. Take, for example, The Early Music Show (today, 1pm). Or, in this instance, the Earlier Music than Now Show, since Chopin, era-wise, is no John Dowland.

That aside, it’s a fascinating listen in which three piano performances are compared – one Chopin’s, one by a pupil of his, and one given on a restoration of a Pleyel square piano similar to one that he might have played.

The cultural documentary strand World Routes (today, 3pm) is a better fit, in that Lucy Duran is in Warsaw, exploring some of the traditional folk forms associated with Chopin. Then, in programming guaranteed to further enrage those listeners who tune in to Radio 3 only to be enraged by it, Jazz Lineup (today, 4pm) includes a talk with the foremost proponent of classics-to-jazz, Jacques Loussier. He’s best known for reinterpreting Bach, but his trio has dabbled with Chopin, and his thoughts are illuminating.

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Fancy a Romantic weekend with Frederic Chopin?
Times Online – UK

Accompanying sidebar essay about “why many pianists find him too weepy.” Worth a read! And check out the recommended recordings (Perahia, Cortot, Rubinstein, etc) at the bottom…

Is the man worth this much fuss? In principle, yes. Chopin may not have had any imitators, but that’s only because his individuality as a composer is so strong. His melodies curl about and stick in the mind like no one else’s. His harmonies waft a pungent perfume all their own, and invite you into an imaginative, mercurial world unique in music history.

True, he wrote no epic symphonies, no operas, no oratorios, no sacred passions – none of the period’s usual outlets for lofty musical thoughts. But he used his preferred short forms with such a degree of innovation and imagination that even people who feel distaste at his music’s emotional atmosphere respect Chopin for his craft.

Well, not everyone respects him. In a 1981 radio interview the notoriously eccentric Canadian pianist Glenn Gould brashly announced that Chopin (and Liszt and Schu-bert) “had no idea of how to write for the piano”. On another occasion, Gould called Chopin “not a very good composer”. Heavens above, you might think, if those keyboard composers couldn’t get past Gould’s pearly gates who could?

Such idiosyncratic opinions should not be rejected completely. Chopin, for all his wide popularity, remains a complex, often misunderstood, figure, and if this weekend’s bonanza helps us to peer into his many-sided character and find a man who wrote much more than pretty music, the world will be a better place.

The truth is, Chopin is a tricky customer. Even pianists in full sympathy with him approach his music with some trepidation. The British pianist Stephen Hough, the veteran of a fine CD of the Ballades, declares his music to be so fearfully perfect, so polished, lacking a single ugly bar, that “if a piece doesn’t naturally sound beautiful it can only be the performer’s fault”.

For Simon Trpceski, responsible for one of the most volcanic of recent CD Chopin recitals, playing this composer also carries risks. “There’s a Macedonian saying,” he says, “about going with your hat to break a wall.” And we should remember Tamás Vásáry’s comment to Jeremy Siepmann in the 1990s about Chopin leaving nowhere to hide. “With Chopin,” he said, “you often feel quite naked.”

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