Site review by ramesh June 8, 2007
|4 Ballades; Waltzes in E flat Op 18, and A flat Op 42; Nocturne in F Op 15/1; Mazurkas in F minor Op 7/3, A minor Op 17/4 and in D Op 33/2; Etudes Op 10/3 and 10/4.
This is a stereo-only reissue by Sony Japan of one of the most celebrated classical piano recordings of the 1990s. When released in 1995, I recall the original CD stated 'Recorded in 20 bit sound', although there is no mention of either this, or any other technical information, in the SACD booklet.
Perahia in the 1970s forged a huge reputation with a series of acclaimed records for CBS, including the complete Mozart solo piano concertos, of which three from this series are on SACD, and two Chopin recitals. In the late 1980s he came to know Vladimir Horowitz, who encouraged him, in his words, to broaden his dynamic range in the romantic repertoire and utilise a more iridescent tonal palette. This might seem on the surface to be a charming but ultimately disingenuous musical anecdote, except that this description fits with what one hears on this disc, compared to the previously mentioned Mozart piano concertos.
All the performances here are of the highest distinction. The Ballades breathe with an idiomatic naturalness which strongly bring to my mind the Rubinstein performances which are happily also on SACD. Perahia is less obviously virtuosic in these compared to the 1960s Ashkenazy in a Universal Japan SACD, or Pollini and Zimerman. However the fire is there, notably in the first two Ballades, but it is deployed only for the thread of the musical argument : scarcely advice which one could believe came from Horowitz himself! Strangely, the volatile Second Ballade sounds younger in the hands of Rubinstein. However, the Fourth Ballade is given one of its greatest-ever performances, outshining any of the extant Horowitz recordings. In the Ballades, indeed in all these pieces, Perahia picks one basic tempo for the work unless the composer stipulates otherwise, and inflects this speed with the most subtle of rubato. Consequently, the longer works sound less episodic, more unitary, than they have in other great [ Horowitz, Cortot ] and student hands.
The waltzes and nocturne are imbued with a chiselled elegance which also remind one of Rubinstein. [ In press interviews at the time of the original CD release, Perahia relates how he recorded this piece five times at different tempi, initially settling for a faster performance before finally settling for one of the slower takes. Yet, the work lasts 4 minutes and 3 seconds here, compared to Angela Hewitt's 4 minutes 45 seconds on her SACD.] Only in the mazurkas does one feel that the rubato, fine though it is, doesn't quite equal what Rubinstein, Friedman or Horowitz have projected in these dances.
The sound on this SACD is more open than on the CD, presumably due to the original 20 bit master. However, it still has that PCM glare, albeit mitigated. Perahia recorded the etudes again about a decade later. These later performances also appeared on SACD, and here the sound has slightly more nuance compared to the earlier recording, although occasionally marred by the noise of what I assume to be studio airconditioning. Comparing this 1994 compilation to the 1973 DSD remaster by PentaTone of Arrau in the Chopin Preludes, the piano sound from the 1973 analogue tape is richer and closer to live piano sound, despite the slight tape hiss. [ Arrau was recorded in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Perahia in the same Swiss concert hall which Philips frequently recorded Arrau during his last decade.]
What the SACD remaster defines most clearly are the myriad dynamic and tempo adjustments which Perahia makes in his phrasing, and how these intertwine contrapuntally. Many audiophile reviews prattle on about how the audiophile reviewer can hear 'the boundaries of the hall sound' or the fingernails/ breathing/ rustling of the musicians. Here I can say most definitely that it is worth buying this PCM-remastered SACD because it preserves the artistic subtleties. It reveals the art of how concealing, reveals.
Nevertheless, this is an essential Chopin SACD. The other Chopin SACDs I consider in the highest artistic rank are : Perahia in the Etudes, Arrau in the Preludes, Rubinstein in the Concertos, Ballades and Scherzi, Pollini in the Polonaises, Ashkenazy in the Ballades and Scherzi.