Chopin etudes HMU907282

Déjà Review: this review was first published in November 2004 and the recording is still available.

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Etudes, Op 25 (1832-36) [32’36]
Trois Nouvelles Etudes (1839)
Berceuse in D-flat, Op 57 (1844)
Barcarolle in F-sharp, Op 60 (1846)
Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op 61 (1846)
Frederic Chiu (piano)
rec. 2001/03, Skywalker Sound, Marin County, USA
Harmonia Mundi HMU907282 [64]

US-based Frederic Chiu possesses a melting tone and high level of musicianship. Intelligent programming means that the set of 12 Etudes, Op. 25 has been separated from its Op. 10 Siamese twin and placed in the context of several later, and much-loved, works. This makes for a nice change from the norm; Op. 10 appeared on HMU907201, coupled with the four Rondos.

The actual recording is exemplary. Warm and with all the depth one requires, Producer/Engineer Brad Michel should be congratulated.

Chiu’s reading of Op. 25 is something of a curate’s egg. The fluent right-hand in No. 2, the considered use of pedal in No 8, the cheeky close to No. 9, the contrast between No. 10’s stormy double-octaves and its oasis of repose middle section and a nicely shaped No. 12 all lie in the credit column. On the debit side stand under-played lower voices in No. 1, stabbed-at melody in No. 3 and a No. 5 that sounds for all the world as if it is straight out of the practice room … and not just because Chiu takes it at half speed. The Trois Nouvelles Etudes are more successful, strangely. The first has a particularly Chopinesque sense of nostalgia, while the delicate Second complements the shifting Third.

The Berceuse is one of Chopin’s loveliest pieces. Chiu is very sensitive here; similarly in the Barcarolle, where he shapes the work towards a nice climax.

It was a brave choice to end with one of Chopin’s most elusive masterworks, the Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61. Actually, Chiu has the measure of the piece, understanding Chopin’s enlarged canvas well and showing a laudable aversion to rushing. It is this performance that gives the most hope for Chiu.

State-side critics have apparently likened Chiu to Glenn Gould. Both pianists favour crystal-clear textures, it is true, but Chiu is not to Chopin what Gould was to Bach; that much is certain. Chiu is one of those pianists who gained attention by not winning a competition – his elimination from the 1993 Van Cliburn Competition before the final round created a stir. It is true that there is evidence here of independent thought, which is always refreshing; especially these days. He already has an extensive discography on Harmonia Mundi. I shall be watching …

Colin Clarke

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