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Monday, May 8, 2017

Frédéric Chopin - Works for Piano and Orchestra (Nelson Goerner; Frans Brüggen)


Composer: Frédéric Chopin
  • (01) Fantasy on Polish Airs in A major, Op. 13
  • (02-09) Variations in B flat major on 'Là ci darem la mano' from the opera Don Giovanni by Mozart, Op. 2
  • (10) Rondo à la Krakowiak in F major, Op. 14
  • (11-12) Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante in E flat major, Op. 22
  • (13) 'Dąbrowski's Mazurka'

Nelson Goerner, piano
Orchestra of the 18th Century
Frans Brüggen, conductor

Date: 2008
Label: Fryderyk Chopin Institute



This is the sixth album I’ve reviewed from the Fryderyk Chopin Institute of Poland, and all of them have been excellent. They are from a series called “The Real Chopin,” which is dedicated to the complete works of Chopin played on period instruments. Nelson Goerner has recorded the Ballades for this label, but on a different piano than he uses here. On this disc he plays an Erard made in Paris in 1849, the same piano Dang Thai Son used in his recording of the piano concertos, also with Frans Brüggen. This Erard at times has a clangy sound, but it is loud enough to complement the sonority of a group the size of the Orchestra of the 18th Century. All the performances on this disc were recorded live, which contributes to a feeling of excitement throughout. Combining all four of Chopin’s shorter works for piano and orchestra on one disc is a great idea. It really should be done more often. Three of the works were included in a concert that concluded with Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony; I’m sure the Chopin set must have been very satisfying heard live.

I don’t understand why Nelson Goerner does not have a bigger career. He won a major competition, the Geneva, at age 21. He has all the attributes of the romantic virtuoso, except perhaps the looks. He possesses a big technique and plays the modern piano very well; I have his debut Chopin album for EMI, which is excellent. We should be glad at least that he is recording in Poland. He already has recorded the Fantasy on Polish Airs on a modern piano for the Polish label CD Accord. The Fantasy mines a rich vein of Polish melancholy, familiar from Chopin’s later works. Goerner’s playing here is deeply satisfying, alternately delicate and brilliant. He particularly relishes a mazurka-like episode. The accompaniment is more prominent than in Chopin’s other works for piano and orchestra. Brüggen’s conducting is highly sensitive.

The remaining three works by Chopin were played at the concert I mentioned. The Mozart Variations is the piece that prompted Robert Schumann to make his famous remark in a review, “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!” Indeed, the Fantasy, the Variations, and Krakowiak all were written in Chopin’s teens, and are remarkable testimony to his early talent. The introduction to the Variations features the kind of modulations familiar from later Chopin, and Goerner’s playing here appropriately is rather free. His rendition of the first four variations is exuberant. The concluding Alla polacca gives Goerner the chance to go to town in rip-roaring polonaise rhythms. Principal clarinet Eric Hoeprich is wonderful in this piece, as he is throughout the disc. I still remember my first hearing of the Variations: a live telecast from the Mostly Mozart Festival with Shura Cherkassky.

I also remember where I was when I first heard Krakowiak, over the car radio, in Claudio Arrau’s recording. This is a rondo in the familiar style brilliant of the day. Goerner plays it crisply but with beautiful shadings, very much the early 19th-century cosmopolitan virtuoso. Brüggen relishes the rhythms in the polonaise-like tuttis. Flutist Konrad Hünteler is especially prominent. In the Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante , we now confront a more mature Chopin. The Andante features gorgeous cantabile playing. Goerner has learned how to get a real legato out of the Erard, with notable use of the pedal. He is not as supercharged as some pianists in the polonaise, but he plays it with marvelous rhythmic acuity and variation in dynamics. Goerner proves that soft playing can be exciting too. He gets an especially tangy bass sound out of the Erard. The principal horn player, Teunis van der Zwart, has some fine moments here.

The CD ends with Dąbrowski’s Mazurka , a brief anonymous 18th-century piece played by the orchestra alone. It has patriotic connotations for Poles, and Chopin knew it. If you want to compare the piano works with performances on modern instruments, I like Idil Biret with the late conductor Robert Stankovsky in the Variations and in Krakowiak . Arthur Rubinstein with Alfred Wallenstein is a longstanding recommendation for the Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante . The sound engineering on Goerner’s CD is excellent, and the audiences are especially quiet. The program notes for the album are notably more readable than is typical for this series. I listened to this disc five times before writing this review, and I guarantee you will find it quite catchy. Even in works written when he was just in his teens, Chopin and his music grow on you.

--  Dave Saemann, FANFARE


Frédéric Chopin (22 February or 1 March 1810 – 17 October 1849) was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era who wrote primarily for the solo piano. He gained and has maintained renown worldwide as one of the leading musicians of his era, whose "poetic genius was based on a professional technique that was without equal in his generation". Chopin's music, his status as one of music's earliest superstars, his association (if only indirect) with political insurrection, his love life and his early death have made him a leading symbol of the Romantic era in the public consciousness. His works remain popular, and he has been the subject of numerous films and biographies of varying degrees of historical accuracy.


Nelson Goerner (born 9 May 1969 in San Pedro, Argentina) is an Argentinian pianist. After studying in Argentina with Jorge Garrubba, Juan Carlos Arabian and Carmen Scalcione, he was awarded First Prize in the Franz Liszt Competition in Buenos Aires in 1986. This led to a scholarship to work with Maria Tipo at the Geneva Conservatoire, and in 1990 Nelson Goerner won the First Prize at the Geneva Competition. Goerner enjoys a long association with the Chopin Institute in Warsaw, with which he recently explored the interpretation of Chopin on contemporary pianos by Pleyel and Erard dating from 1848 and 1849.


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