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CHOPIN: Études

Etudes Op 10
3 Nouvelles Etudes, Op. posth: Etudes op 25

Louis Lortie

23 Nov Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

This recital, received with adulation by a near capacity audience, was for me problematic in several ways. Having as an amateur pianist worked at the studies intensively many years ago - the fast ones only up to half speed or less - I was looking forward to hearing them all in concert, the more so after reading beforehand Nick Breckenfield's programme book analysis of the technical problems addressed in each one, which few will have read.

But as given in QEH I quickly began to doubt whether they make a good concert recital? Twelve were given without pause before the interval and the remaining fifteen likewise afterwards. Speed seemed to be the main consideration, with sound quality only moderate from the Fazioli, which has become Lortie's instrument of choice. Maybe I'd have been able to enjoy them more on a period piano of Chopin's time (cf. Daniel Grimwood's revelatory Liszt on an Erard of 1851). The quietest ones (and the Sonata Funeral March encore) suffered from the high-pitched ambient noise (probably from lights) that is the bane of several otherwise acoustically good concert halls.

Far more rewarding has proved listening to a few at a time in Lortie's excellently engineered recorded accounts of them (presumably not played straight through in the studio) on his Chandos CD CHAN-8482 (1986), which was being sold at the hall (I deplore the contractual requirement of these recitals for a signing session after so strenuous an exercise...).

Some of my reservations had been voiced by John W Lambert about another presentation of this same concert. He mentions "an aura of quasi-religiosity by playing through all of Op. 10 with barely a pause between each number", "the substantial audience sat in rapt concentration and attention, some seeming hesitant to breathe", and he just wished "that there had been a hair's breadth more space between some of the notes, in the interest of greater clarity in some of the studies".

It is good to see/hear Lortie himself discussing the Études on his well thought-out website http://www.louislortie.com/

Peter Grahame Woolf