Finding the true essence of the modern Chopin
Frederic Chopin left detailed markings of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, pedaling, even some fingerings, for his 21 Nocturnes to guide interpreters. Yet no two versions – and there are dozens of them -- are anything like the same. The essence of playing Chopin today is
deciding how far to veer, how sharply to swerve, from the master’s ideas today without losing sight of his artistic intentions.
The player must ask, “When does Chopin cease to be Chopin?” Now comes the rising French pianist François Dumont with a stunning new version that sets him apart (Aevea Classics). As Dumont told me recently, he has found his own way forward: “One has to learn how to read not only what is written, but also what is implied.”
His new two-disc set (including the three posthumous Nocturnes) brings a clarity, momentum and coherence that immediately grab the ear. His controlled pianissimos – his “implied” passages -- create a tender sweetness to the melodies, and the vigorous middle sections often provide the jolting contrasts Chopin sought. Subtle rubato comes and goes. Dumont even takes long pauses between several of the pieces, leaving the listener in an eerie state of suspension. As he told me, “Sometimes I feel breathing is necessary for both the player and the audience, in order to reflect and absorb what just happened musically.”
What keeps the Nocturnes high in the ratings of the musical public is partly the variety of styles – from salon music to the full spectrum of Chopin’s own personal growth as a composer between 1827 and 1846.
Sentimentality is dominant in some, but two in particular stand out for their sheer power – the C-sharp minor Op. 27 No. 1, and the C-minor Op. 48 No. 1.
For these two CDs, Dumont worked from the recent Polish National Edition from PMW, edited by the late Jan Ekier, thrice chairman of the Warsaw Chopin Competition. Ekier’s markings have been criticized by some for their departure from the traditional but Chopin surely would have approved. He never played his works the same way twice, altering dynamics, improvising and varying ornaments spontaneously.
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