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Classic FM, March 2011

The best new recordings of all six of Chopin’s works for piano and orchestra come at a bargain price (Naxos has also issued the First Piano Concerto, Fantasia on Polish Airs and Krakowiak). The acoustic is a shade boomy and Antoni Wit’s Warsaw Phil players veer towards the workmanlike, but Nebolsin carries all before him with sparkling, life-enhancing playing. Particularly fine are the earliest and last works that Chopin wrote for this medium: the rarely heard Variations (1827) and Grande polonaise brillante (1835) both staking a claim as the new benchmark.



Scott Noriega
Fanfare, March 2011

CHOPIN, F.: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Variations on La ci darem / Andante spianato and Grande polonaise brillante (Nebolsin, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit) 8.572336
Pupils of Chopin - MIKULI, K. / TELLEFSEN, T.D.A. / FILTSCH, C. / GUTMANN, A. (Rutkowski) 8.572344

Naxos here gives us two rather interesting releases, the former showing off the new Polish National Chopin Edition of some of Chopin’s works for piano and orchestra, the latter presenting some of the many students of Chopin, mostly in smaller character pieces, and in genres closely associated with the Polish pianist-composer.

Eldar Nebolsin was born in Uzbekistan in 1974. He eventually went on to study with Dmitri Bashkirov, before garnering international attention after winning the Santander International Piano Competition back in 1992. In addition, he was awarded the Sviatoslav Richter Prize in the International Piano Competition, Moscow, in 2005. He is a name that is new to me, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to hear a bit of what he’s doing right now. He has the kind of virtuosity that is less apparent than other pianists’, because he always seems to be completely in touch, musically, with what he’s doing—and not for the sake of showing off what he can do. He has a fluid sound, and a good lyrical sense—sometimes losing the rhythmic bite, the quirkiness of the rhythms, but always maintaining a beautiful sound. The concerto’s first movement is perfectly paced to bring out the Maestoso character that is asked for in its tempo marking. But again, sometimes the music loses that aforementioned bite and consequently its momentum. The way Nebolsin handles the delicate filigrees of the concerto’s Larghetto, though, is just one example of his good taste in never over-sentimentalizing this music. The Allegretto vivace that follows is equally well done, having an almost eerie, misterioso quality to it from the very beginning of the movement. The pianist shines especially in these latter two. The Mozart Variations—the piece that Schumann was so impressed with that he called Chopin a genius—has never been hugely popular in this century. Nebolsin does a good job of letting the music flow naturally, while keeping the textures of the piano figuration light and airy—not so easy, considering the difficulty of these etude-like variations. Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic provide excellent accompaniment, surging when necessary, supporting at other times, and getting out of the way when the soloist comes to the fore.

The second recording is a fascinating study of some of the numerous personalities who studied with Chopin in his short life. While all of these pieces owe some of their characteristics to Chopin, none quite sound exactly like him, though all of them have their own formidable technical hurdles. The pianist, Hubert Rutkowski, a prizewinner of many competitions and currently professor at the Hamburg Musikhochschule, is well equipped to handle these and then some. The Mikuli etude (Piano Piece No. 8) gives the pianist a perfect opportunity to display his ability to handle rapid yet extremely delicate textures, while the same composer’s Cantinèle (Piano Piece No. 9) allows the pianist to show off his lyrical side. Tellefsen’s compositions have definite charm to them, similar to that of Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, for example, yet not quite as original or interesting as the Norwegian master. Carl Filtsch, a boy of only 15 when he died prematurely, provides some of the most Chopinesque of all these compositions. Perhaps he was too young to fully develop his own personal style, but his ability to copy the sound of his teacher is uncanny; his Impromptu No. 1 reminds one of the sound world of Chopin, yet not as masterly. He must have been one talent for Liszt to say of him, “When this little one begins to tour, I will have to close up shop.” Gutmann, the dedicatee of Chopin’s Scherzo in C♯-Minor, op. 39, was one of the master’s favorite pupils. His works range from the simple, melodic Nocturne in A♭-Major to the brilliant figuration of the Boléro. The music is undistinguished in any significant way, but still it has its own appeal, as does similar salon music of the day.

Both pianists are solid musicians, capable technicians, and both have good taste. The sound on both recordings is excellent, the orchestra particularly vivid and present in the concerted works. The variations are splendid…and Nebolsin gets my vote for one of the best available. The pupils’ works—curiosities though they are—will be more for those interested in little-known 19th-century composers and their music, or for comparative listening.



Malcolm Hayes
Classic FM, January 2011

The Music All of Chopin’s music with orchestra was written when he was a young composer trying to make his name, before his solo piano music then made him one of Romanticism’s all-time greats. Even so, there’s no mistaking that here is a young genius at work.

The Performance The Warsaw Philharmonic and their conductor Antoni Wit must have accompanied the Second Piano Concerto many dozens of times, but you wouldn’t think so from their fresh, anti-routine way with the concerto’s orchestral introduction. The octane-level drops when Nebolsin joins in. Although a fluent, stylish, technically impressive pianist, he doesn’t make much happen: the second movement’s beautiful, intricately-decorated lyricism just doesn’t take wing. Fortunately Nebolsin is in much more live-wire form in the sparklingly inventive Mozart variations, and in the Andante spianato (‘spun’ Andante) and Grande Polonaise.

The Verdict While Nebolsin’s contribution in the Second Concerto doesn’t measure up to the fearsome competition in other recordings, his and the orchestra’s excellent way with the other two works is well worth a listen.



John Allison
BBC Music Magazine, January 2011

Both the veteran Wit and the 36-year-old pianist Eldar Nebolsin approach it with a mixture of seriousness and poise, showing a complete identification with Chopin’s language



Jed Distler
ClassicsToday.com, January 2011

While not the most impassioned and poetic reading of Chopin’s F minor concerto to be had, there’s much to be said for Eldar Nebolsin’s forthright delivery of the solo part. I’m particularly struck by how he tends to take decorative passages more-or-less in tempo, making expressive points mainly through dynamic gradations and shifts in articulation (the Allegretto vivace’s main theme and the Maestoso’s second subject, for example). However, the pianist’s finest work occurs in the incisively characterized Là ci darem la mano variations and the languid yet beautifully spun out Andante spianato. Unfortunately, a harsh, blurry recording quality lessens whatever impact Antoni Wit and his splendid Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra may have made aside from the microphones, while by contrast, Nebolsin’s closely miked piano seems to inhabit a different acoustic. Incidentally, this recording of the F minor concerto purports to be the first to use the new Polish National Chopin Edition, yet the annotations discuss nothing about what the text entails, nor what distinguishes it from its predecessors.



John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Bargain of the Month

All too often when playing Chopin pianists seem to concentrate more on producing their own individual performances rather than on playing what is in the score. Conductors and orchestras do not bother too much, relying on the received wisdom that Chopin could not write for orchestras. As is clear from this disc, he could, but he did it in a very individual way, albeit one which is essentially to support and encourage the soloist. The tuttis are rightly firm and unmannered here, whilst the various solo voices rising from the orchestra - in effect secondary soloists – emerge as distinct characters. The bassoon in particular has this role in the Concerto, and here he (or she) is made sufficiently audible to achieve this without being artificially spotlit. Even better, the section near the start of the third movement where the upper strings play a rhythmic pattern col legno - with the stick of the bow - whilst the lower strings play arco is balanced just right. The effect is neither inaudible nor just bizarre but rather evokes some kind of folk-dance. Similar care over balance and phrasing appears throughout the disc, and adds enormously to the listener’s pleasure and understanding.

It may seem odd to start this review by talking about the orchestra rather than the soloist, but Eldar Nebolsin is such a superbly musicianly player that I am sure that he would not complain. Although he plainly has the technique to tear through simply showing off his virtuosity, and he is certainly not afraid to do so when that is required, he is more interested in the changing character of the music, and of its line. Rather, of its lines, as over and over again I was delighted to be able to hear details of inner voices and details that are usually submerged in the texture. The slow movement is taken at a flowing speed that allows the phrases to breathe naturally. There is rubato in all three movements, but not to such an extent that the basic pulse is hidden. Naxos refer to these performances on the sleeve as being “fresh” and that is exactly the right word although I would add “musicianly and enjoyable”. I do not want to suggest a slavish devotion to the letter of the text. There is freedom, but allied to real rhythmic control, and with a delightful variety of tone colour and lightness of touch.

The performances of the two shorter works share similar virtues to the Concerto and for once I can understand Schumann’s famous comments after hearing the Variations. They come across as having real imagination and wit rare in sets of virtuoso variations of the period.

With excellent and well balanced recording this goes straightaway to the top of my preferred performances of the Concerto. There is no sense of self-indulgence or of empty virtuosity; instead, we hear what the composer has written projected with beauty, wit and imagination. For me this is near the ideal in the performance of Chopin.




John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, December 2010

All too often when playing Chopin pianists seem to concentrate more on producing their own individual performances rather than on playing what is in the score. Conductors and orchestras do not bother too much, relying on the received wisdom that Chopin could not write for orchestras. As is clear from this disc, he could, but he did it in a very individual way, albeit one which is essentially to support and encourage the soloist. The tuttis are rightly firm and unmannered here, whilst the various solo voices rising from the orchestra - in effect secondary soloists – emerge as distinct characters. The bassoon in particular has this role in the Concerto, and here he (or she) is made sufficiently audible to achieve this without being artificially spotlit. Even better, the section near the start of the third movement where the upper strings play a rhythmic pattern col legno - with the stick of the bow - whilst the lower strings play arco is balanced just right. The effect is neither inaudible nor just bizarre but rather evokes some kind of folk-dance. Similar care over balance and phrasing appears throughout the disc, and adds enormously to the listener’s pleasure and understanding.

It may seem odd to start this review by talking about the orchestra rather than the soloist, but Eldar Nebolsin is such a superbly musicianly player that I am sure that he would not complain. Although he plainly has the technique to tear through simply showing off his virtuosity, and he is certainly not afraid to do so when that is required, he is more interested in the changing character of the music, and of its line. Rather, of its lines, as over and over again I was delighted to be able to hear details of inner voices and details that are usually submerged in the texture. The slow movement is taken at a flowing speed that allows the phrases to breathe naturally. There is rubato in all three movements, but not to such an extent that the basic pulse is hidden. Naxos refer to these performances on the sleeve as being “fresh” and that is exactly the right word although I would add “musicianly and enjoyable”. I do not want to suggest a slavish devotion to the letter of the text. There is freedom, but allied to real rhythmic control, and with a delightful variety of tone colour and lightness of touch.

The performances of the two shorter works share similar virtues to the Concerto and for once I can understand Schumann’s famous comments after hearing the Variations. They come across as having real imagination and wit rare in sets of virtuoso variations of the period.

With excellent and well balanced recording this goes straightaway to the top of my preferred performances of the Concerto. There is no sense of self-indulgence or of empty virtuosity; instead, we hear what the composer has written projected with beauty, wit and imagination. For me this is near the ideal in the performance of Chopin.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

Recorded at the time of the First concerto, Eldar Nebolsin brings the same fresh and unaffected approach to this companion disc (8.572335). In both concertos his tempos are unhurried, but at the same time he never dallies so as to exaggerate a particular moment, while linking passages do not become breathing space. Movements are taken in long spans that are not commonplace in other recordings, and in this concerto he mischievously holds back the beginning of runs to highlight his nimble fingers. It will bring a smile of pleasure to hear such crystalline quality. The central Larghetto is full of such moments, the conductor, Antoni Wit, working hand in glove with his soloist. The finale is not the sprint to the finishing line we often hear, but fast enough to generate the necessary excitement. The variations on an aria from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni is in the style beloved by virtuoso performers of the time, Nebolsin’s second and ninth variations being another tour de force of fleet fingers. The Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise brilliante, are totally satisfying without resorting to overstatement. Throughout the engineers have not drawn attention to subtle orchestral nuances, but have conveyed a natural concert hall perspective. Coupled together the two discs reside among the most desirable Chopin discs to appear in his anniversary year. [Being released on Naxos Blu-ray Audio NBD0012 in January 2011 – Ed.]



Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, November 2010

Having enjoyed Nebolsin and his colleagues so much in the First Concerto, Polish Fantasy and Krakowiak Rondo (A/10), I wondered in my review if they could not oblige with the remaining three Chopin works for piano and orchestra. I had no idea Gramophone reviews were so persuasive. This second volume lives up to its predecessor in every way, and the slight reservations I had about the acoustic and workmanlike accompaniment seem marginal considerations here. In fact, an arbitrary comparison with the Argerich/Dutoit recording (EMI, A/99R) reveals far cleaner textual details and a more integrated keyboard and orchestral relationship. Tempi are judged to a nicety and, once again, in the finale of the concerto, Nebolsin’s insouciant playfulness is a real delight. The rarely recorded “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius” Op 2 Variations are welded into a cohesive whole in what, for me, is the new benchmark recording (try the final pages of the Alla polacca variations with Nebolsin’s left hand injecting a motoric rhythm against the non-stop right-hand semiquavers). This, Chopin’s earliest work for piano and orchestra (1827), is followed by his last (completed in 1835) to round off in exuberant high spirits a highly recommended disc.






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10:52:48 PM, 25 October 2014
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