Nocturnes (Chopin)

Roger Woodward (piano)

Celestial Harmonies
TPT: 2:04:12 2-CD


  reviewed by Neville Cohn

As a teenager – and much to the annoyance of my parents – I played and endlessly replayed an LP of the complete Nocturnes of Chopin. The soloist was Arthur Rubinstein and the passionately extrovert manner of his interpretations made a huge impression on me. Certainly, those performances of long ago are still as vivid and meaningful for me as they were when I first encountered this keyboard treasure.

These interpretations established for me the standard by which all other performances of the Nocturnes were measured. But the other day, I came across no less lustrous musical gold: Roger Woodward’s account of the complete Nocturnes, a set that includes the two posthumously published Nocturnes – one in C sharp minor, the other in C minor – neither of which formed part of the Rubinstein recordings of the early 1950s to which I have referred here.

Woodward’s offerings are wonderfully considered interpretations. There is nothing remotely glib or cheap about the presentation which comes across with near-faultless taste and refinement of expression. Woodward’s performance has the inestimable advantage of recording engineers who clearly know exactly what they are doing; the end result is magical, piano tone right across the range as true and honest as one could ever hope it to be.

If you value the music of Chopin at the highest level, I urge you to obtain these wonderful recordings. Treasure them; they are a cornucopia of wonders, entirely justifying Rubinstein’s own comment that Woodward was one of the best Chopin interpreters he had ever encountered.

Listen to the first of the set – opus 9 no 1 – glowing toned, unhurried, bordering on the languid, and op 9 no 2, surely the most hackneyed of all the Nocturnes, music routinely massacred by earnest but wooden young piano players at eisteddfodau. Hear it, for once, shorn of honeyed sentimentality. And the third of the set, seldom encountered in live performance is rather too long for its material (in Rubinstein’s famous recording, a hefty segment of it is deleted). In Woodward’s hands, one can savour the ecstatic edge brought to its flying arabesques, its interior mood of turbulence finely revealed but always within the line and contour of Chopin’s idiosyncratic style.

The three nocturnes of opus 15 are given memorable treatment, too: the central section of the Nocturne in F is darkly dramatic, the outer sections essays in tenderness. I specially admired the second of the set – the F sharp minor Nocturne – not least for the refinement that informs the outer sections. And in the third of the set, Woodward captures its elusive essence like a moth in the gentlest of hands.

Other marvels are a profoundly expressive opus 27 no 2 – and the unhurried unfolding of opus 37 no 2 (its thirds are immaculately essayed). And Woodward transforms the great Nocturne in C minor from opus 48, its pizzicato-type bass chords and surging climaxes the stuff of high inspiration.

Highly recommended.

Neville Cohn Copyright 2006


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