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Chopin Vol. 1 - Nocturnes, Scherzi & Bb min. Sonata
(Dohnanyi & Weinberg)

Luis Lortie, piano

Chandos CHAN 10588

Louis Lortie is a greatly admired pianist, but I have had some difficulty with him which epitomises the subjectivity of all music reviewing.

The special feature of this programme is the alternation of Nocturnes with Scherzos, explained by Lortie as equivalent to the improvisations indulged by great romantic pianists to get audiences 'in the mood'. He believes that "nobody really wants to sit down and listen to pieces of a single genre in a row". Concurring with that, we had greatly enjoyed his TV programme Death In Venice: A Musical Journey With Louis Lortie, which prompted us to got to his recent London recital of all the Chopin Études straight through, but we found that daunting, though his total command was not to be questioned (see one on video).

The problem with this disc was partly one of listening choice, and we are increasingly conscious of the variability of home listening. The sound from Lortie's favoured Fazioli as recorded at the Britten Studio, Snape December 2009, worried me. It was generally clear but hard, especially in the top register. There was a slight oddity, hard to pin down, lessened on better equipment with large loud speakers, but noticeable again on my iPod. More important, there was little "heart" to balance the hard-won but seemingly easy virtuosic mastery - so one admired without somehow becoming involved.

The idiosyncratic "blur of the finale" discussed in Jeffrey Kalber's notes on the sonata didn't happen, every note was clear and distinct. And for the Funeral March, I still hanker after Rachmaninoff's wilful dynamics reversal on its return - to put my doubts in perspective hear his evergreen interpretation of it on YouTube.

Two other Chandos releases this month pose different problems and I shall try to have another reviewer consider them. Ernst von Dohnányi was a famous composer/pianist, but he eschewed the modernism espoused by his contemporaries throughout his long and politically difficult life; "his music did not travel as afar as he did" (Matthew Rye). Howard Shelley does all one could for his two piano concertos [CHAN 10599 X], but they really didn't hold my interest and I could not envisage either of them getting a place in the concert repertoire. Somewhat similar a reaction to two of Weinberg's symphonies [CHSA 5078], No 1 (1942) redolent of Shostakovich and Tanyev, No 7 (1964) a sort of Concerto Grosso with strings and harpsichord, "a piquant hint of transgression" [David Fanning]. Don't let me put you off...

Peter Grahame Woolf