The second album entirely dedicated to Chopin is available as physical CD and on the main online platforms.
Liner notes by Riccardo Risaliti
Four works of this intelligent Chopin programme were composed in about five years. Five years seems very few, but considering the brief life of the composer and the high speed at which he matured, they are not. We can listen to a piece still anchored to the virtuoso and elegant production of the first works, but we can also abandon ourselves to the masterpiece that is surely recognized as the Sonata Op. 35.
The third Rondo, op. 16, is part of what Chopin himself is overcoming when composing the first Scherzo and the first Ballade, not to mention the first series of etudes, Op. 10. In his first publication, he indeed started with a Rondo and later he wrote three more ones. He had already used this kind of composition by itself for piano and orchestra (Op. 14) and in the closing movements of the piano concertos Op. 11 and Op. 21. But still, in his mind, all this remained a decorative music. We hear the same results in the compounded main part (Allegro vivace), in the Rondo in E flat, that is introduced by the episode in Hummel’s style in C minor: a sort of improvisation between the serious and drama that preludes something important. Instead, the result is an elegant piece in which verve is dominating and anticipates the Chabrier of Pezzi pittoreschi.
Dedicated to a brilliant student of both Chopin and Liszt, today this piece isn’t among the most frequently played ones; nonetheless, it was chosen for the musical repertoire of two of the greatest pianists such as Sergei Rachmaninov and Vladimir Horowitz, who left of it a wonderful reference version.
A very different level of his art is shown by Chopin in his four Mazurkas Op. 24; after Op. 17, they are his second collection thought as a cycle that will be finished with a significant and innovative piece: Mazurka n. 4 in B flat minor, which consists of a deep transformed musical language. It’s the first great Mazurka by Chopin, more a poem than a mazurka, somehow a transfiguration of it: a sort of ‘smiling in tears’, a poignant music that faints in a solo voice pianissimo in the fifth grade.
His first Mazurka in G minor already expresses an existential melancholy in its popular manners. Dance becomes more serene when in his second Mazurka we find four waltz-rhythm motifs. So peculiar is one of these motifs, the use of the Lydian scale – a F major with the fourth scale degree raised. The third Mazurka too, in A flat, moves into a swinging mode between waltz and mazurka.
Even in its personal evolution, constantly accompanied by masterpieces, Chopin’s nocturne regularly faces Field’s style: this is the starting point in fact, not to mention the earliest works inspired by Oginski’s polonaise. After his Op. 27, which is concluded by the Nocturne in D flat as returning to the sublime vocalism as in Filed’s style, Chopin goes back in Op. 32 to a simple and humble style. In the first Nocturne, characterized by an idyllic and generic tune, the last and concluding section appears more relevant where repeated F under a chord of G major prelude to a cadenza and a dramatic recitativo which will close in a minor tone. The other nocturne also begins with harmonization that reminds us of Field’s style. But suddenly the central section takes off in a marvelous cantabile in shimmering chords that – with two different tunings – bring us to a strong fortissimo before closing in a ‘leggerissimo’ with the reprise of the first theme. Both these nocturnes were published in 1837.
In the same year, 1837, Chopin issued also the Marche that two years later he will insert into the Sonata in B flat minor, making an extraordinary work by assembling it together with three different movements and giving them all the name of “Sonata”. This Sonata will be criticized by Schumann for scarce homogeneity. It’s indeed this Marche (that in some editions of the time has also the adjective funèbre) which features a passage that gives to the whole Sonata the sense of death and transcendence felt since the XIX century – when Anton Rubinstein firstly defined it as “the poem of death” and later Guy Sacre called it “rhapsody of the death”.
The first movement is built upon two initial themes: the one opening has a descending seventh jump, and the rhythmic other one has an interval in minor third when the right hand is playing. Moreover, we may listen to another cantabile theme. The second movement is a sort of Mephistopheles waltz where, in the central trio, the erotic seduction of love and death are expressed by repeated dialogues between a solo voice and a faraway chorus.
Here, the evocative power of the two movements dissolves in the very popular Marche: a great crescendo of the reprise and the magic sonority of the trio are both effects of a deep impact. The ghostly murmuring of atonal flavour evoked by Chopin in the fourth movement – as per composer’s requests – needs a legato e sottovoce hard to perform in a modern piano. For this, it’s frequently neglected by modern interpreters. According to a pretty common hermeneutical interpretation of the XIX century, it should represent an icy wind of death that blows and caresses the grave marble.
After nine polonaises that develop from the imitation of Oginski and Kurpinski by a very young Chopin who would like to progress towards more elaborate structures, the Polish composer decided to publish his first two polonaises with Op. 26. These are already two masterpieces, to which will follow Op. 40 and, in 1841, the great Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op. 44.
It is a wide piece of music, only the Fantasie Op. 49 and the Polonaise-fantasie Op. 61 are longer. This is more a poem than a polonaise: as Chopin will write, “a new kind of polonaise, that is a fantasie”. Lyricism and national boldness are evidently higher than in the previous polonaises. We will find them again in the more known but not better Polonaise in A flat major. From an initial cell of four notes, formed of two intervals typical of many themes of Chopin, the second and the fourth ones, moves a passage of octaves that leads to the first theme. The episode is highly compounded. Then a second, ascendant theme arrives and, finally, an obstinate rhythm such as military drums. Before the reprise, the central section is made of a sort of mazurka that is producing a trio (some polonaises with a mazurka had already been written by Kurpinski). In this work Chopin is able to reassemble the two most popular Polish dances, making them an apotheosis.
«When I find myself listening to a disc or a concert with Chopin’s music, I often wonder at what point we are nowadays in the interpretation of such an important author in the history of Romanticism. When in 1960 Maurizio Pollini won the Warsaw competition, Sviatoslav Richter wrote in his notes that the victory was highly meritorious because – according to what the famous Russian pianist said – “among all the candidates, the young Italian was the only one to offer a patriotic and revolutionary interpretation” that was what the Polish people were looking for. A vigorous, masculine, heroic, “mould in metal” idea of Chopin. However, Richter stressed that in this kind of interpretation there was a lack of poetry and delicacy, too high boldness and self-confidence, and more, lack of that “sense for improvisation” which is the basis for the narration and musical rhetoric. Emotion – as an uncontrolled reaction of the body – originates from different factors in the musical performance: at first the sound, which gives way to feelings that are instead (as the psychology demonstrates) an elaboration of emotion, a construction of our mind. In the 1930s Arthur Rubinstein was capable of overcoming Chopin’s interpretation of the romantic school, and he was also followed by some generations of pianists. Pollini’s lesson was deeply understood, first by imitation, later by conviction by the youngest pianists who – especially when preparing their participation in competitions – became more careful and accurate with the text, the technique, the regularity of the rhythm,
the rigorous structure, the authoritative presence of the sound, rather than to its charm. A modern style that is nowadays updated and somehow far from the romantic poetics that only recently, in a post-modern era (as well described in Piero Rattalino’s books) is gradually going back to really deep emotional values.
Young pianist Elia Cecino, who took part and won many competitions, up to now has accepted this neoclassical, if we want, interpretation of Chopin, that certainly has benefited him, but he also shows a clear attention for those emotional values I mentioned before. He is capable of structuring a programme connotated by a great variety and by great expectations for a Chopin’s repertoire where Sonata in B flat minor is a real challenge. He’s also at ease when playing mazurkas and nocturnes, two genres which are “simple” only on the surface; moreover, he elegantly performs in Biedermeier flavour the Rondo or in the nostalgic lyricism the Mazurkas (n. 1 and 4 of Op. 24). He plays the Nocturnes with convincing freedom and the Polonaise with structural awareness and powerful sound, being good at relaxing in the central section of the Mazurka. Sonata sometimes still reflects more the necessary precision of the competition performances than the righteous understanding of the funereal sense of that masterpiece. But, how can we ask to a twenty-year-old young man to penetrate the meaning of the death? I can only wish him to have many and more years of success ahead to mature that sensibility! His Sonata is nonetheless a Chopin’s version of high fascinating technique and impact.»
Release date: April 9 2021
Recorded in September 2020 during the APP
Piano: Steinway & Sons D-274