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Dave Saemann
Fanfare, January 2011

In 1992, Eldar Nebolsin won the grand prize and gold medal at the Santander International Piano Competition. A year later, still in his teens, he went into the studio to record his debut album for Decca, a program of Chopin and Liszt. He presents there consistently involving and imaginative performances, worthy of a pianist of much riper years. Unfortunately, a major recording career did not materialize for him. Though he studied with Dmitri, Nebolsin was not particularly photogenic and did not bang, two strikes against him in the popularity contest for young pianists. Happily Naxos, from which so many good things flow, has caught up with Nebolsin in his mid-30s and is recording him in a diverse repertoire. The present CD is one of two surveying Chopin’s complete music for piano and orchestra. Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic previously recorded the First Concerto with Olga Kern. Nebolsin’s set is the first to use the new Polish National Chopin Edition. To me, the most noticeable change from older editions is in the articulation of some of the tuttis in the opening movement of the First Concerto.

Nebolsin performs the first movement of the concerto at a moderate, almost measured tempo that really allows the music to sing. He has beautiful articulation and a liquid tone. His passagework is especially clean. Although Nebolsin’s technical skill is outstanding, his playing is so lyrical that you don’t think about his chops. The orchestra supports him with a luminous tone; the solo horn plays especially well. The second movement is a true romanza. Nebolsin spins out the main melody most operatically. He plays very affectionately here, but never too delicately. In the last movement, Nebolsin doesn’t hurry. He relishes every bit of filigree phrasing. The Polish dance rhythms are especially pointed. Nebolsin’s runs are gorgeous, never breathless. All in all, this is a highly accomplished version of the concerto.

In the Fantasia on Polish Airs, Nebolsin allows himself greater license than in the concerto. The work is more openly a virtuoso showpiece than the concerto, and Nebolsin proves very comfortable with its rhetorical flourishes. The orchestra handles the work’s folk-music elements beautifully, contributing a dark, brooding sense of melancholy. The performance of Krakowiak has considerable brio. Nebolsin treats the opening highly evocatively, leading to a subtle rendering of the dance rhythm in the main theme. Much of the piano writing in the work is dense, and Nebolsin provides considerable sonic heft when required.

Naxos’s sound engineering is excellent, full and well balanced. Interestingly, they did not use one of their regular engineers, but instead turned to the Polish label CD Accord for theirs. I think anyone should be happy to add this CD to their library, particularly at Naxos’s price. I am happy to have Eldar Nebolsin back again in Chopin. It has been a long time coming.

The WSCL Blog, November 2010

It’s hard to go wrong with Chopin’s music in the hands of Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic. Eldar Nebolsin is featured in this disc of three piano-and-orchestra works by Chopin.

International Record Review, November 2010

A brand-new version of the same concerto comes from Naxos, with Eldar Nebolsin and the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit. Initial impressions are unpromising: the opening tutti sounds glutinous, but things improve significantly. Nebolsin is a poetic player as well as an agile one and Wit accompanies sensitively. The slow movement is lyrically done, though Nebolsin becomes a shade mechanical in the arpeggios near the end. The finale shows his playing at its most refined, though the orchestra sounds plummy in big tuttis. The couplings are the Fantasia on Polish Airs, Op. 13 and Krakowiak, Op. 14. Both are attractively done, especially Krakowiak, where the orchestral sound seems brighter than in the concerto.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

Even if you have a shelf full of Chopin concerto discs, this new release is an absolute necessity. Eldar Nebolsin hails from Uzbekistan, his progress to the upper echelons of the world’s finest pianists having been unhurried. Now with a maturity that sees well below the printed page, his forthright first entry shows that this in not the droopy Chopin that has gained a following in recent times. Listen to the clarity of every note in the decorative runs of the first movement; the alternating strength and delicacy that he brings to the finale, every dynamic mark and accent freshly considered. If he does allow himself some rhythmic latitude in the central Romanza, he never seeks to impress us with his own personality, but remains content to be the composer’s articulate messenger. The Fantasia on Polish Airs is, in many ways, the more difficult, as it offers the soloist little more than the confectionery that Nebolsin dispatches with the utmost charm. Here he does allow himself more freedom, justified in the need to provide playful charm. Krakowiak opens innocently enough before embarking on a showpiece Rondo where Nebolsin has the scope to show mercurial fingers rippling through fast passages with such unfailing exactitude. Throughout the Warsaw Philharmonic is in splendid shape, Antoni Wit a highly compliant conductor. The piano, of outstanding quality, is well forward, though the orchestra remains a influential voice in the strength of the performance. [Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the same artists is also available on Naxos CD 8.572336 and will be released on Naxos Blu-ray Audio NBD0011 in January 2010 – Ed.]

James Manheim, November 2010

Chopin’s two piano concertos are almost always paired with each other on recordings, but this Naxos release, with Uzbek-born pianist Eldar Nebolsin and the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit, offers a more inventive and even more illuminating program of early Chopin pieces. The Fantasia on Polish Airs, Op. 13, actually predated the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, and it’s quite rarely performed. In this context it’s a gem, showing something of the milieu from which Chopin’s individual style emerged while he was still in Poland. It is suffused with national melodic flavors and rhythms, and one of the themes is not by Chopin at all but by Warsaw Opera conductor Karol Kurpinski. The work lacks the characteristic chromaticism of Chopin’s later music, but unmistakably shows his bent toward profound pianistic elaboration of essentially light genres. Here and in the Piano Concerto No. 1 pianist Nebolsin achieves distinctive performances, with a lyrical, slightly languid tone that fits both pieces beautifully. He turns on the power (which he displayed in abundance on an earlier Liszt release) in the second subject of the concerto’s first movement, in the final “Kujawiak” movement of the Fantasia on Polish Airs, and on the concluding Krakowiak, Grand Rondeau de Concert, Op. 14, a work that captures as well as any other the moment at which Chopin broke through to international stardom. Definitely worth adding to a well-stocked Chopin shelf. The recording is billed as the first “to use the new Polish National Chopin Edition,” although the booklet notes (in English only) don’t discuss which pieces that applies to and what the main import might be.

Jeremy Nicolas
Gramophone, October 2010

Scintillating pianism that can rival the greats in this repertoire

Nebolsin, after his superb recording of the Liszt concertos, proves himself a scintillating and persuasive Chopinist, alive to every detail and, indeed, subtly highlighting a few that are generally ignored, such as the underpinning by the left-hand at 2’22” et seq in the concerto’s last movement. This Rondo is, for me, the highlight of the disc, nonchalantly fleet-fingered, beautifully phrased and conveying a real joy of shared music-making. The Fantasia and Krakowiak are no less successful, rivaling Rubinstein’s 1968 version of the latter (and in better sound) and outfacing Arrau’s overrated 1972 recording of both. With any luck, Nebolsin and Wit will organise with the other two (non-concerto piano and orchestra works) and the Second Concerto.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, September 2010

Youthful ardour permeates these overly-familiar early works of Chopin. There is no gainsaying Eldar Nebolsin's mastery of the keyboard. But the fire that burned so brightly in his recording of the Liszt piano concertos is almost absent (nor does this music actually require such temperament). These are fine renditions, and anyone who does not own this music on disc would not go wrong in acquiring them. For the first time in many years, Naxos deviated in this case from its standard format of cover art - a not unwelcome move.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, August 2010

For practically as long as I can remember I’ve loved the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, by Frederic Chopin (1810-1849). Not that I think it’s the greatest music in the world, just among my favorite[s]. Chopin was primarily a pianist and composer for the piano, so most of what he wrote was for solo piano. The orchestral accompaniment he provided for his two piano concertos can at times seem almost like an afterthought. No matter, with melodies so lovely and memorable.

Perhaps, then, you can understand my bias in liking almost every recording of the Concerto that comes along, including this new one from pianist Eldar Nebolsin on Naxos...Chopin wrote the Piano Concerto No. 1 within a year following his Piano Concerto No. 2 but published No. 1 first. So if No. 1 seems the more mature of the two, well, by a few months it actually is. Chopin described the second movement of No. 1 as “reviving in one’s soul beautiful memories.”  In Chopin’s case, he composed the piece when he was about nineteen or so and smitten at the time with a beautiful young student, Constantia Gladkowska, at the Warsaw Conservatory. Although he barely talked to her and she soon married somebody else, he probably had her in mind when he wrote both of his piano concertos, as well as a few other works.

Of course, the piano parts dominate both piano concertos, the better to showcase Chopin’s virtuosity with the instrument. Yet with the Piano Concerto No. 1, the piano doesn’t even enter the picture until after a fairly lengthy orchestral introduction. Go figure. Maybe the composer intended the prolonged preamble to make the piano’s entrance all the more grand. It certainly works that way. Anyhow, Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic open big but not as dramatically as some conductors and orchestras do. Whatever, it sets a tone for the intimacy to follow in the main theme. Then Nebolsin enters about five minutes in and dominates the rest of the show.

Nebolsin can be quite extrovert one moment and quietly introspective the next...Nevertheless, Nebolsin does create more tension and sheer excitement than most others invoke, which in part makes up for any lack of poetry elsewhere.

Nebolsin actually seems more at home in the Romanza, where he caresses the keyboard lovingly...Finally, Chopin appears to have added the last movement just to round out the piece...It’s a zippy little Rondo that at least Nebolsin and Wit have fun with.

Coupled with the Piano Concerto we find Chopin’s Fantasia on Polish Airs, Op. 13, which the composer wrote while he was still in school. It’s in four short movements and, while generally charming, doesn’t amount to much. The second movement Air is probably its most-delightful component, and Nebolsin makes the most of it.

The program concludes with Krakowiak, Chopin’s Grand Rondeau de Concert, another of the composer’s early works for piano and orchestra that shows moments of brilliance. Certainly, it makes an appropriate teammate to Chopin’s other early orchestral works with piano.

The disc’s sound is typical of most new Naxos releases, this one recorded in September, 2009, at the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland. We get a wide, warm, smooth image, somewhat soft and veiled, with the orchestral parts melding nicely but not revealing individual instruments so well. Except the piano, of course, which is considerably out front and center...Yet the piano sound is quite fetching, very natural and realistic in tone.

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