The Chopin Etude Op25-7 in C♯ minor is my favorite of all the Chopin etudes. In it is to be found a synthesis of Chopin's great heroes, Bach and Bellini, the one a master of the contrapuntal, the other of the exquisite spianato melody.
I begin with Paderewski, Goldenweiser, Cortot, and Cohen, all born well over a century ago, who have the earliest words on this piece, and end with Trifonov who may well have had the last. In between are many others, some wonderful, some not. Paderewski and Cortot capture the operatic in this music, for me. Goldenweiser, the grandaddy of us all, gives it a beautiful, if unusually unsentimental reading. Arguably the most beautiful performance is that by Harriet Cohen whose seemingly endlessly floating contrapuntal lines have me girding my loins in anticipation of their return to ground.
The performance by Walter Rummel is too mono-phonically polite for my taste. There is little of the lyrical and the exquisite polyphony is largely ignored. In addition, too much is made of the vertical rhythm in the left hand halting the inevitability of the forward motion. Of the pianists born before 1925, his is the only performance that leaves me quite unmoved.
A comparison of recordings of the Chopin Etude Op25-7 by three great pianists follows. There is another performance by Paderewski from 1923 worthy of PT Barnum. It is about a minute shorter than the one I like and is at times almost laughable. The one by Robert Lortat is very personalized and utterly convinging. Koczalski's is quite interesting misses the mark for me. And I love the way Sári Bíró plays this piece. While perhaps not as intense a reading as some, she captures the singing quality required of this music and her performance most satisfying.
I find the Pollini recording disappointing, as I do with much of his playing. It is perhaps unfair, but I was around when he burst onto the scene. I heard him play the twenty-four Études live in the 1960s. It was a fabulous experience, and the promise was beyond anything to be hoped for. The fingers are there, but the lack of depth and understanding in his playing since then have left me unmoved.
Lugansky's playing is elegant as always, but his performance of this étude lacks the passion I look for. Horowitz is Horowitz, and always Horowitz. His are extremely personal interpretations, sometimes, as in this performance, obscuring the composer's intentions, but ever fascinating. The are few of his recording that would accompany me to my desert island, but I would miss hearing them.
I include a performance of the Chopin Etude Op25-7 by Valentina Lisitsa because she has made quite a name for herself of late. But as is invariably the case, her playing strikes me as that of someone who understands little of the music she plays, and cares less. It is almost like painting by numbers. A ritardando here, let's speed it up there, and see how lovely my wrist looks when I play this passage this way. Another performance in a similar vein, by which I mean by a prime exponent of the moi generation, is the one by Mélodie Zhao whose exaggerated emoting is of the worst kind. It is a performance in which any semblance of the meaning of the music, the shape of the lines, and the structure of the piece are virtually obscured.
Lest you feel the men escape my ire, Francesco Libetta has managed, to my ear, to produce a virtually worthless performance of the glorious Chopin Etude Op25-7 without even the saving grace of an occasionally well turned phrase.
Murray Perahia is another pianist whose playing has never been able to speak to me. He is considered to be one of our finest pianists by many whose judgement I respect. And yet . . .
And then there's Cziffra, another monumental pianist upon whom the drama and passion of this music is not lost. Less successful is Geza Anda, the expected beautiful playing notwithstanding. He makes choices which, while justifiable, are not to my taste.
Sokolov's is beautifully played, but lacks the forwatd impetus of the music. It is an aria and the piano must sing. A voice would not, could not, sing it this way.
But Ginzburg's, another of the most beautiful performances here, is a tragic love duet worthy of any great Italian opera. Do not miss this one, and don't feel badly if you do not want to hear any other after it. The one by Samson François is nearly as good, a lot more in the declamatory vein, but it works. And Richter's performance is simply splendid.
Slenczynska is another pianist who has largely left me cold. I am neither fond of her percussive style, her's is not a beautifum tone, nor her rigid rhythms. And I actively dislike the way she plays the Chopin Etude Op25-7 in particular. Nor do I care for Weigel's performance, which surprises me as I am generally very impressed by the modern French school. It rather reminds me of someone trying to cut what should be a very tender morsel. And Timofeyeva plays beautifully, as all Russians seem to, but there is a disconnect in her performance, almost like Horowitz on an off day. Any given phrase might be lovely, but in the context of the whole she misses the forest for the trees.
Of the group of pianists born after 1924, a date that for the purposes of this exercise seems to divide the wonderful and the not so much, Gavrilov's is a very creditable performance. While he has chosen not to base his interpretation on the dramatically operatic elements of the Chopin Etude Op25-7, his is a beautifully lyrical view, and one I find quite satisfying in its consistency. And the one by the young Coation pianist, Aljoša Jurinić, is very fine.
A disappointment is Moravec whose Chopin is quite often lovely. I feel he has just missed the boat with this one.
IGNACY JAN PADEREWSKI
Polish pianist (1860-1941)
recorded in the early 1920s
Russian pianist (1875-1961)
Franco-Swiss pianist (1877-1962)
IGNACY JAN PADEREWSKI (rec 1923)
04:25 ➢ ROBERT LORTAT, French pianist (1885-1938)
08:53 ➢ RAOUL von KOCZALSKI, Polish pianist (1884-1948)
German pianist (1887-1953)
recorded in 1924
DAME HARRIET COHEN
British pianist (1895-1967)
recorded in 1928
Russian (Ukraine) born American pianist (1903-1989)
recorded live in 1983
Russian pianist (1904-1961)
Hungarian-American pianist (1912 - 1990)
broadcast live in 1949
Soviet pianist (1915-1997)
[preceded by Op 25~6]
Hungarian-French pianist (1921-1994)
Hungarian pianist (1921-1976)
[followed by Op 25~8 and 9]
recorded live in 1965
French pianist (1924-1970)
American pianist (b 1925)
Czech pianist (b 1930)
Italian pianist (b 1942)
American pianist (b 1947)
Russian pianist (b 1950)
Russian pianist (b 1955)
French pianist (b 1964)
recorded live in 2000
Italian pianist (b 1968)
recorded live in 2010
Ukranian pianist (b 1969)
contemporary Russian pianist
recorded in 1998
Russian pianist (b 1972)
Croatian pianist (b 1989)
recorded in 2007
Russian pianist (b 1991)
Swiss pianist (b 1994)
recorded live in 2010
For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background
which is also available as an audiobook.
And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:
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