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“Frédéric Chopin: Complete Nocturnes”
Frédéric Chopin: Three Nocturnes, opus 9 – Three Nocturnes, opus 15 – Two Nocturnes, opus 27 – Two Nocturnes, opus 32 – Two Nocturnes, opus 37 – Two Nocturnes, opus 48 – Two Nocturnes, opus 55 – Two Nocturnes, opus 62 – Nocturne in E minor, opus post., 72/1 – Nocturne in C minor, opus post., KK IVb/8 – Nocturne in C-Sharp minor, opus post., KKIVa/16

Jan Lisiecki (piano)
Recording: Meistersaal, Berlin, Germany (October 2020) – 123’59
Deutsche Grammophon 00289 486 0761 (Distributed by Universal Music) – Booklet in English and German

Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki is about to return to concert tour with programs of Chopin’s Nocturnes. The 26 year old soloist has previously been praised for his mastery and maturity in his “Night Music” recitals. After a year off the road due to the pandemic, Lisiecki went into the studio to record this two CD collection of Nocturnes for Deutsche Grammophon.

In the booklet essay, “Simplicity”, Lisiecki writes that the Nocturnes, “... present a personal story from the interpreter to the listener. They are a canvas, a sphere to dive deep into one’s own emotions and thoughts.” Lisiecki’s recent recordings of Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos are exemplar of his technique and precision while performing with orchestras. His studio performances of Chopin’s solo pieces are even more impressive.

The Nocturnes, he notes, “They embody what I cherish most in music: the yearning, captivating melody, the framework he provides for flexibility, the endless fresh ideas.” Some of those ideas about Chopin’s chromatic structures are still being debated. The Nocturnes are dynamic piano studies that keep giving to new generations of musicians.

In the post-Classical early Romantic musical era, the nocturne was a new musical form, invented by Irish composer John Field, a cantabile style and ornamentation that made it particularly suited for performance in smaller spaces such as Chopin loved. Chopin’s chromatic and rhythmic flow expanded the form. But whatever the musicology, the Nocturnes are dynamic piano studies that resonant with contemporary classical pianists.

Lisiecki’s interpretive artistry reveals his deep understanding of this repertory and how undecorated and natural the music was for its time and how resonant it still is. The musical language of Chopin is so halting, so intimate, that it floods one’s senses.

One is transported in the “Lento” movement of Nocturnes, opus 27 that keeps evolving into a haunting dreamscape. Or one is lost in the contemplative musical journeying of Nocturnes, opus 32 and all that it can evoke in one’s own heart and mind. A sense of improvisational pianism during the melancholy waltz of Nocturnes, opus 15 becomes a dancier dialogue between the pianist and composer.

Some of the Nocturnes are so dramatic that one can’t help but wonder what inspired them, vis-à-vis Chopin’s celebrated and often tumultuous life. Does the music reflect, for instance, his engagement with pianist Maria Wodzińska, who studied with John Field? Or what pieces might have reflected Chopin’s tumultuous affair with French writer Amantine Dupin (aka French writer George Sand)? What themes may have foreshadowed Chopin’s early death at age 39 from complications from a heart condition and tuberculous?

Whatever the backstories, throughout this collection is a celebration of Chopin’s brilliance and Polish musical heritage, formal and folkloric. Collectively, The Nocturnes, emotionally and artistically, move one in so many ways. Kudos also to the Recording Producer/Engineer Stephan Flock for capturing Lisiecki’s altogether luminous performance of the Nocturnes.

Lewis J. Whittington




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