Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Supernova Up Close

Ingrid Fliter plays Chopin
EMI Classics 5099951489953
  • Piano Sonata No. 4, Op. 58
  • Ballade No. 4, Op. 52
  • Barcarolle Op. 60
  • 4 Waltzes
  • 3 Mazurkas
  • 2 Preludes
  • Impromptu in c sharp minor, Op. posth. (later the Op. 66 Fantaisia-Impromptu)


There is, for the piano as for many other instruments which are formally studied, a standard repertoire which an artist is expected to assimilate in order to be considered a master of their craft. With classical music, most all of this repertoire dates back from 100-300+ years, at least for most popular concert instruments--piano, violin, organ, string ensemble, etc. For pianists, probably first on that list is the Pole Frederic Chopin (1810-1849). Along with Beethoven, Chopin is considered the greatest composer for the piano, first on a list which contains Ravel and Rachmaninov and Liszt and (though he wasn't technically a piano composer) Bach. In part, Chopin probably owes his place on the list to the correspondence of his lifetime to the maturation of the piano mechanically. The early versions of the pianoforte which Bach experienced (and treated as a curiosity) were a world away from a modern piano, and even Beethoven was playing an instrument still very much under development. Chopin, on the other hand, wrote his pieces for a very close approximation to the modern Steinway.

Like Bach, Chopin wrote pieces of wide-ranging technical sophistication, pieces which are manageable for the aspiring pianist, and also great works with passages of diabolical difficulty. But emotionally Chopin is a pure Romantic, a composer with a miraculous gift for melody and urbane expression. Not surprisingly, many pianists have established themselves by way of Chopin's works, people like Vladimir Ashkenazy and Artur Rubenstein and Garrick Ohlsson and Martha Argerich.

Now here's another: the Argentine Ingrid Fliter (b. 1973). A specialist in the works of Chopin, Ms. Fliter studied in Freiburg and Rome and Imola and has won or placed highly in a number of piano competitions.

To my ear, Ms. Fliter plays these pieces to perfection. In that mysterious world where abstract music makes for powerful communication, she seems to have lit upon exactly the right forum for her sensibilities. Her tempi and phrasing are exactly correct, and she has exactly the sense of drama and the commanding technique to make these pieces absolutely compelling. From the frenetic whimsy of the waltzes to the gravity of the b minor Sonata and the absolute drama of the Fourth Ballade (one of my very favorite pieces in any genre), she dances and muscles her way around the keyboard in thrilling fashion, creating a whole sonic landscape which the engineers at EMI Classics have captured perfectly.

As I've said before in other contexts, if these performances don't work for you, then you're simply never going to respond to this music, period. She is that good.

Here's a sample from YouTube:


shrimplate said...

Thank you thank you thank you!

I've been considering buying this disc, but I already have a lot of Chopin. There 's repertoire that I like to hear played by different artists, so I've got to hear this. Repeatedly.

Nice video, too. One of my music teachers explained that the Nocturnes were piano versions, so to speak, of Donizetti -style arias. The left hand strums along while the right hand "sings" melody, with the usual Chopin filigree and ornamentation.

wunelle said...

That's a neat way to think of the Noctures.

I too have waaaaaay too much Chopin, but I'm always in search of the perfect performance (to my ear, of course), so I keep looking. Having now listened this album thru four times, I'm convinced I've found it.

Before Fliter, my fave was Garrick Ohlsson, and I find Evgeny Kissin quite compelling with Chopin as well.

shrimplate said...

I went out to Borders, which is my bricks'n'mortar local record store, and the copy of the Fliter had been already snatched up. There was a bargain double-disc of Ohlsson doing the Preludes and a bunch of Nocturnes so I got that instead.

The Preludes are something that I can listen to again and again by different artists.

There are other works like that for my ears; the late Beethoven sonatas and quartets, the Bach solo violin music, Strauss's Four Last Songs, the Rach 3rd, Bartok quartets, Mozart piano concertos, Salome, Isolda, the Sibelius violin concerto... you get the idea.

Anyways, at first I thought Ohlsson sounded clunky, like Gould playing or something. I was in the kitchen listening through an old sub-sat Atlantic Technology system. Then some of the extroverted and stormy Preludes came along. I went into the living area where the Martin-Logans hold sway, and then I got it.

I grew up with the Ivan Moravec recordings. He was renowned for playing Debussy "as if the piano didn't have hammers." Amazing legato.

Ohlsson has a way different touch, and thanks for the nudge. I don't have enough of his stuff anyways. The EMI sound is pretty good, too.

I got some other interesting stuff too, but this is already getting long.

Later, dude.

Kije a.k.a. "shrimplate"

wunelle said...

Oooohhh. Martin Logan! (He pricks up at mention of juicy electronics!)

I've not abandoned this site; I'm just having a lazy summer where I haven't acquired much new music. Things will pick up again in the fall, I'm sure.

Like you, I have certain repertoire that I can listen to again and again and again, and I use it to evaluate new artists. Chopin is one of them--the Ballades and Scherzi especially, but also the Preludes--plus anything by Bach and Duruflé. I'm trying to find anyone to outdo Louis Lortie in his Ravel, and I can listen to Franck's Chorals endlessly.

I used to have some Ivan Moravec recordings of Debussy (don't know what happened to them) which I loved. I think the late, great Paul Jacobs and Krystian Zimmerman currently hold sway in my Debussy camp.

Debussy and Ravel (of whom Debussy said "has the greatest ear in all of music") never fail to amaze me.

shrimplate said...

This Fliter disc arrived in the mail Thursday (9/11) and I've listened to it three times already. It's excellent; really polished playing.

The double-trills in the Barcarolle are so musically and effortlessly done. The Sonata is the best I've ever heard. I think she derives a wider emotional range from it and goes to lighter moods that seem absolutely appropriate but new among my many hearings of it. And she has a slight natural rhythmic looseness in the right-hand that sounds just right in the waltzes and mazurkas. She's probably been playing them for most of her life, it seems.

The recorded sound is great. I like everything about this disc. The only thing better would be if Fliter cane to my house and played this in my living room.

Of course, we'd have to borrow a Steinway from somebody...

wunelle said...

I listened to it again on my long drive yesterday, and she continues to captivate. There's just not a false note in the whole thing.

The Barcarolle, in fact, might be my favorite (though the Sonata is special and, as you say, the best I've heard).

I hope she does more. I'd love to hear the rest of the Ballades (my favorite Chopin pieces) and the Scherzi.