Finely wrought Chopin from Tharaud

Review for International Piano (March/April 2008)

Chopin: Préludes
Alexandre Tharaud
Harmonia Mundi HM901982

Tharaud's recent disc of the Chopin's Waltzes showed the French pianist bringing a considered elegance to the composer's highly-polished oeuvre. A new recording focusing on the opus 24 Préludes confirms the young Frenchman in having both the natural grace and seriousness of purpose to become the best of Chopin interpreters. Indeed, in performing what are perhaps the most intimate and vulnerable of the composer's works, Tharaud shows himself possessed of an interpretative confidence rare in pianists of his generation.

In a markedly warm recording atmosphere, one of the most striking aspects of Tharaud's performance is the clarity of polyphonic texture. Even in such slight pieces as the opening C major prelude, or those such as the A major prelude in which the relation between single melody and figuration seems beguilingly simplistic, the snatches of counter-melody are given enough expressive space to glimmer like hidden gems.

The major challenge presented by the Preludes lies in presenting a disparate collection of generically distinct pieces as a genuine expressive unity. Tharaud has obviously paid great attention to matching tempi and tone, and by and large succeeds in shaping the many emotions and styles into a coherent narrative. Not that the stylistic individuality of each piece is sacrificed -- indeed, the careful rubato, intelligently controlled internal rhythms and virtuosic use of the sustaining pedals, seemed to restore to each of these often explored works something of their lost newness.

The overall impression of finely-wrought intimacy is carried through to three short pieces by Frederic Mompou, a composer who like Chopin specialised to an extraordinary degree in piano composition (and who also featured on Tharaud's previous Chopin disc). The inclusion here in particular of the fifteenth piece from the Música Calda set, based on Chopin's poignant fourth, E minor prelude, is particularly welcome. In all, the brief Catalan excursion casts a valuable extra perspective on the Chopin, in addition of course to the worthwhile work of bringing Mompou to a new and likely well-disposed audience.

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