Review by akiralx February 28, 2005 (15 of 15 found this review helpful)
|A fine set – Chopin’s Nocturnes should perhaps only be listened to in groups of 3 or 4, but this complete survey (with the Impromptus thrown in) will satisfy the needs of most listeners, especially those with multi-channel capabilities.
I’ve enjoyed Maria Joao Pires’ set on DG (on CD only, of course) for a few years, and comparisons with hers and Hewitt’s are interesting. Pires’ performances are well recorded, and her interpretations are ‘straighter’ than Hewitt’s – which is not to suggest they are dull, far from it – but I do have a slight preference for Hewitt’s performances which I find more interesting for repeated listening. Her choice of rubato is very idiomatic and she manages to make even the most well-known works here, like the op.9 set, sound fresh. Artistically this competes with the very best available - Claudio Arrau on Philips is my favourite of older recordings, but Hewitt must be among the very best of recent years.
Sonically this is a slightly different sound-picture to Pires’ DG set. Hyperion have recorded Hewitt in the German venue that Philips used for Brendel’s later Schubert recordings, and this mirrors the nicely reverberant, warm aural image in those Philips recordings from the 1980s - although unlike Brendel Hewitt plays an Italian Fazioli piano which seems to have a slightly brighter sound with rich overtones.
This venue sounds like a moderately-sized concert hall, whereas the Pires set sounds like it was recorded in a more intimate venue. But those fearing a maelstrom of reverberation and the problems associated with recording in empty halls need not worry: the piano is nicely focused within the acoustic and is vivid with plenty of presence, and has an attractive sound ‘halo’ around it.
This sounds very pleasing in multi-channel when played at a reasonable level; the set loses some impact if played as soothing background, perhaps as late-night listening. In any case these interpretations demand the listener’s full attention to give the their full due. Still, I would say Yundi Li’s DG SACD of the four scherzi has the best Chopin piano sound in multi-channel at the moment.
A very worthwhile purchase for Chopin lovers even if duplication is involved.
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