Chopin Piano Concertos

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21

Derek Han (piano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Nicholas Cleobury

Recorded on 26 and 27 November 2004 in Cadogan Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2005
Duration: 69 minutes

The Royal Philharmonic has been making its own CDs for a while now. This one, with time not lost in issuing it, benefits from the excellent engineering of Tony Faulkner and the equally excellent acoustic of Cadogan Hall, the RPO’s new administrative home. The recording is finely balanced to give Derek Han an arresting profile and allows the orchestra to be pertinently in the picture, too.

One criticism levelled at Chopin’s two concertos is his ‘lack’ of orchestration: just enough to support the soloist. In fact, Chopin’s scoring is full of detail and colour, which is something that Nicholas Cleobury brings out with noteworthy care and attention (including the ad lib trombones). After what seems a rather curt opening to the E minor concerto (actually the second of these works to be composed), just a few bars into this work and Cleobury has yielded for something altogether more mellifluous; such lubrication holds good for both concertos.

Here, rather than let the soloist get on with it, the RPO proves to be a committed partner with much that is lively and lucid by way of orchestral support and commentary; the woodwinds are especially characterful (not least the solo bassoonist) and the strings are attractively grainy. Faulkner’s typically focussed and intimate recording plays its part in conveying this piano and orchestra feel.

As for Derek Han, well, he is a smooth operator, playing with technical sureness if not always uncovering the depth of soul that is in the music. Sometimes his playing is almost too showy and lacking in muscle and weight if not facility; he relishes decoration. Pianists such as Arrau and Weissenberg have displayed the soul and passion that this music contains; Han prefers something lighter and more dazzling; as such, he brings his view off with aplomb. Indeed, these sound like real performances; long takes that allow concert-performance values to be established and developed.

Although the recording and production are both first-class, there are a few, very unintrusive electronic crackles in the first movement of the E minor concerto (which are probably only heard when listening on headphones), and the cough allowed to remain at 7’44” in the first movement of the F minor is irritating. But these are slight blots in the face of such warm and communicative music-making; both slow movements are especially sensitive in shape and touch – from both Han and the RPO – and there is much to enjoy and come back to. In short, a very recommendable release.

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