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Aldo Ciccolini Chopin Nocturnes complete
Cascavelle Vel 3064
[134 mins, December 2002, Paris]

I have had something of a resistance to intégrales in general, and to listening through all 21of Chopin's Nocturnes in particular - the thought of so many mainly quiet, slow pieces in sequence somehow offputting. This wonderful, magisterial account of them, which deservedly won the Diapason d'Or for Aldo Ciccolini, who has been similarly recognised several times before for some of his nearly 100 recordings, puts all reservations to rest. His Satie recordings for EMI earned him recognition beyond the world of the classical concert hall, and we are told that they remain to this day the most popular recordings of twentieth-century piano music ever made.

Aldo Ciccolini, Neapolitan born but long resident in France, is a senior pianist, now 78, who does not often make it across the Channel to UK, and I do not think I have heard him live. He has a huge discography and this release encourages me to explore it. Starting to listen to a few of the Nocturnes, each pulls me to the next. There is a mature, dignified manner, aristocratic they used to call it, and one has complete confidence that every piece, and every phrase, is felt and thought, but never self-consciously.

The accompanying 5-page essay (Stéphane Friédérich) explores the genre, and stresses the need to evaluate every phrase and how the independence of the two hands and infinitessimal control of the pedal are essential to a satisfying realisation. One may have played a few of them onself tolerably well, but according to Friédérich one will never know if these masterpieces are "easy" or "difficult". The chronological examination of them (1827-46) quickly dispels any notion of similarity.

This is an 'inward' pianist who does not sound inhibited or constrained by studio recording, and the recorded quality of the Fazioli piano chosen is excellent. Warmly recommended.


© Peter Grahame Woolf