I just thought Chopin was too girlie

But not any more. Ivan Hewett describes how he belatedly woke up to the ‘tender poet’ of the piano.

The flood of Chopin performances and recordings launched by the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth shows no sign of abating. In the next few weeks Alexander Tharaud, Leon McCawley and Louis Lortie are all giving Chopin concerts, to name just three. As for the recording industry, it’s thrown caution to the wind. In recent weeks there have been new releases from Nikolai Lugansky, Stephen Hough, Nelson Freire, Yundi. The list is endless.

But Chopin hasn’t always swept away those before him. Even now many people feel a deep resistance to him and for years I did, too. When I was just starting to explore classical music I naturally gave Chopin a try and had an instant aversion to him. Those melting runs and arabesques made me feel physically sick, and I instantly translated this “yuck” sensation into a moral judgment.

Read the full article in The Telegraph here.

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Nelson Freire: Chopin Nocturnes

From The Times:

Every concert pianist with ten fingers and thumbs should be playing Chopin this year. Already the record companies are busy marking the composer’s 200th birthday with reissues and new releases. Some companies are in direct competition; only a week separates the release of Decca’s new version of the Nocturnes, the form in which Chopin’s art is at its most poetic, and the rival account from EMI Classics. Decca’s artist is mature, verging on the veteran: the Brazilian Nelson Freire. EMI’s is the hot 27-year-old Chinese attraction Yundi Li — now known simply as Yundi after a change of management and record label.

Freire’s account, recorded in Liverpool in December, glories in a rich and full recording. We need a wide spectrum of sound to catch the variety of colours, densities and inflections conjured from his noble Steinway. “Suppleness before everything,” Chopin used to tell his students. Freire does his best to follow suit, often varying quickenings and hesitations with a magician’s touch. The magic proves especially useful in the slighter Nocturnes, such as Op 31 No 1 in B, where Freire’s lingering over decorative phrases significantly increases the music’s colour. Elsewhere, look out for some electrifying silver filigree (Op 27 No 2), lengthy reverberations on final notes and a level of poetic enchantment that might be a tad below true glory but still takes this music of sweet dreams and agitated melancholy through the night to victory.

(Decca)

Warsaw hosts 170-hour party for Chopin

Piano music has lured walkers on Warsaw’s Royal Route in to a special event over the past week: a Chopin concert, day and night, free of charge.

You could have heard jazz star Grazyna Auguscik as she improvised over Chopin melodies, or an unknown young pianist playing nocturnes at 3am to curled-up couples and solitary night-owls. Nearly 300 musicians signed up to play at “The Longest Birthday”, the idea for which came from the doubt surrounding the composer’s actual date of birth.

Church records put it at 22 February, but Fryderyk Chopin and his family always said it was 1 March. In any case, it was 200 years ago, and Poles are determined to celebrate. The government has designated 2010 Official Chopin Year, and a “celebrations committee” is co-ordinating events around the world.

Read the full article in The Independent here.