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BBC Music Magazine, July 2011

CHOPIN, F.: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Fantasy on Polish Airs / Rondo a la krakowiak (Nebolsin, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit) (Blu-Ray Audio) NBD0011
CHOPIN, F.: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Variations on Là ci darem / Andante spianato and Grande polonaise brillante (Nebolsin, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit) NBD0012

The two Chopin discs are also impressive, with Eldar Nebolsin comfortably among the finest interpreters of his generation. The Concerto No. 1 can hold its head up along side almost any performance,the Second is occasionally a touch more workmanlike, but both discs score strongly for their inclusion of Chopin’s relatively rare other works played with such relish.

John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, March 2011

CHOPIN, F.: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Fantasy on Polish Airs / Rondo a la krakowiak (Nebolsin, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit) (Blu-Ray Audio) NBD0011
CHOPIN, F.: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Variations on Là ci darem / Andante spianato and Grande polonaise brillante (Nebolsin, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit) NBD0012

The latest in Naxos’ continuing series of audio-only Blu-ray releases were recorded in Warsaw’s Philharmonic Hall in 2009 as 88.2K/24-bit 5.0 surround and PCM stereo. This is the latest effort from Naxos at providing some of their titles as hi-res surround recordings, since they gave up on SACD and DVD-Audio after a short time. In addition to the unusual format—of which there have only been a few releases so far—both of these albums used the new Polish National Chopin Edition of the scores, said to be the most accurate to date.

Pianist Eldar Nebolsin hails from Uzbekistan and won the Sviatoslav Richter Prize in 2005 at the International Piano Competition in Moscow. He launched his international career in l992 and has appeared with major orchestras and conductors around the world. He has previously done acclaimed Naxos albums of Rachmaninov’s Preludes and the two Liszt Piano Concertos, as well as recordings for Decca and Oehms.

Both concertos were written by the teenage Chopin so that he could have virtuosic and flashy concerti to perform himself in public. The Second was actually written prior to the First. Both have a similar three-movement structure of Maestoso, Larghetto and Vivace, except that in the First the Vivace movement is in Rondo form. The First’s central movement is a stirring Romanza that the composer described as “one’s beautiful memories.” The dramatic opening movement is balanced by a virtuosic Rondo finale.

The other two Chopin works are about 13 and 14 minutes length each, and both make use of folk music elements from his beloved Poland (although he lived most of his adult life in Paris). They are also quite virtuosic, with the Grand Rondeau ending with quotation of the native dance of Krakow, the Krakowiak.

The Second Piano Concerto of 1830 was written just before Chopin set out for Vienna, which location failed to work for him and he eventually found his way to Paris. Sounding a bit less like Chopin than Hummel or Spohr, the work nevertheless has some lovely melodies and its closing Mazurka is certainly Polish-sounding, with interesting orchestral effects. Chopin’s first teacher was a contemporary of Mozart and instilled in Chopin a love of Mozart, which explains his variations on Mozart’s children's’ song we know better as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The Grande Polonaise was composed in Vienna and later had the Andante spianato preface added to it. Chopin’s sparkling version of the Polish native dance is most attractive.

Conductor Antoni Wit was kept busy recording Chopin with the Warsaw Philharmonic. He made these hi-res Blu-ray surround recordings in September of 2009 for Naxos. Then in February of 2010 he again conducted both of them for an Accentus Blu-ray video (Accentus Music ACC-10202B)—this time with two different pianists—Evgeny Kissin in one concerto and Nikolai Demidenko in the other, plus a couple of solo piano encores. Kissin had started his career by playing both concertos in a Moscow concert in 1984. The Blu-ray video became available in January and has received excellent reviews. I don’t know what format was used for the original recordings and haven’t viewed it.

Both are lovely performances, and both have surround sonics in lossless DTS 5.0 surround on Blu-ray, but the Kissin/Demidenko release also has the 16:9 Blu-ray videos going for it. However, at $45 retail it is a bit more expensive than both Naxos at about $40 total.

Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, March 2011

CHOPIN, F.: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Fantasy on Polish Airs / Rondo a la krakowiak (Nebolsin, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit) (Blu-Ray Audio) NBD0011
CHOPIN, F.: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Variations on Là ci darem / Andante spianato and Grande polonaise brillante (Nebolsin, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit) NBD0012

…a continuing series of Blu-rays dubbed High Definition Audio Disc by Naxos in an attempt to lure audiophiles into the format. With only menu images, the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra with pianist Eldar Nebolsin delivers Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 + No. 2 on separate discs. Recorded in 24-bit 88.2 kHz PCM surround, the discs offer PCM 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HA MA (Master Audio) 5.0 mixes of the music (both 96/24 and recorded in 2009) and this is not as harsh as some of the previous such recordings and releases, comparatively smoother than before. These are very nice presentations and go nicely with the Chopin Blu-rays Naxos and Accentus (Accentus ACC-10202B & ACC-20104) just issued…

Rad Bennett, March 2011

Musical Performance
Sound Quality
Overall Enjoyment

Nebolsin is a new name to me, but according to his biography he’s relatively well known, having played with many of the major orchestras of Europe and the United States. His playing is fleet and his technique sure. Most important, he seems to thoroughly grasp the mercurial lyricism of Chopin’s writing. The orchestra in Chopin’s two concertos is relegated mostly to accompaniment, and for that Antoni Wit and his Warsaw musicians seem almost overqualified. They provide a steady and solid background tapestry on which Nebolsin skillfully weaves Chopin’s beautiful melodies and variations. I have a great fondness for the Krakowiak, which is seldom recorded and is rarely given as virtuosic a treatment as this one. Though it’s usually considered bottom-drawer Chopin, I love its puckish melodies and elegant humor, which Nebolsin and Wit get exactly right. The recorded sound is rich and detailed, but the front sound stage seems to be lacking in depth. The multichannel tracks anchor the piano in the middle speaker for greater clarity and provide just a slight touch of reverberation, which results in those tracks having greater warmth than the stereo ones. A companion disc (NBD0012) contains the second concerto, Variations on Mozart’s Là ci darem la mano, and the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante.

Robert Cummings
MusicWeb International, March 2011

Most long-time admirers of Chopin’s First Piano Concerto are well aware of Artur Rubinstein’s classic 1961 recording, available now on an RCA CD. Other eminently worthy recordings include Argerich, on both DG (1968) and EMI (1999), Ax, on Sony (using a period-instrument piano), and Perahia, also Sony.

Young Uzbek-born, Spain-based pianist Eldar Nebolsin enters the ring. On no count is he ever less than thoroughly compelling in the concerto, from his dramatic and stormy entrance in the first movement to the brilliant but always tasteful virtuosity of his finale. His articulation is clear without sounding brittle, his phrasing elegant and warm, and his technique all-encompassing. Notice how deftly he captures Chopin’s lyrical side in the way he imparts delicate mystery to the first movement’s main theme or how he floats the main theme to the ensuing Romanza in lovely singing tones. In Nebolsin’s hands inner voices often emerge to impart greater impetus to the music: try the coda to his first movement where the left-hand figures—often buried in other performances—convey a sense of agitation and drive as the music hurtles nervously toward the ending. And if he doesn’t quite match the effervescence of Rubinstein’s finale coda, he comes very close.

In the end, Nebolsin makes the decision between him and the others a tough one. However, what tilts the scales in favor of Naxos is the clear and powerful sound and the incisive conducting of Antoni Wit, a conductor who, in an oxymoronic irony, is famous for being unknown. His extraordinary talents were overlooked for years, as critic after critic lobbied in the wilderness on his behalf. Now, owing to their persistence and Wit’s numerous acclaimed recordings on Naxos, he has earned much justly deserved recognition. Wit makes the most of Chopin’s generally bland scoring, often giving it weight and muscle, or pointing up inner detail, or simply letting the music sing where appropriate.

In the accompanying works, Nebolsin is just as compelling: the Fantasia on Polish Airs sounds fresh and vital despite its somewhat less inspired music. Krakowiak comes across with brilliant colors and chipper moods, Nebolsin’s fingers seeming to negotiate the thorniest passages with utter ease. Again, the sound is vivid. The Warsaw Philharmonic play with spirit and accuracy in all works. Notes by Keith Anderson are informative, as usual.

I must point out, as is noted in the heading, that this Blu-ray disc is an audio-only, high-definition production. Also, there is a blurb on the album cover stating that this is the, “First recording to use the new Polish National Chopin Edition.” However, I noticed nothing different in the scores from other performances, and whatever differences there might be are probably negligible. On the whole, this is a splendid release and augurs well for a second DVD from these same forces shortly, presenting the Second Concerto and other Chopin works. In sum, Nebolsin is the real thing, a genuine virtuoso who can interpret Chopin with imagination and style.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

If you have paid a small fortune on equipment to find the best in sound production, then moving to Blu-ray audio is your next step towards perfection. But don’t expect something spectacular, as the shift in sound is towards a greater realism. It opens up the whole recording stage to produce improved inner definition and the subtle nuances that individual solo instruments produce. In reviewing the CD version of this release last November I commented on ‘the clarity of every note in the decorative runs of the first movement’, but here they take on an extra luminosity. Eldar Nebolsin’s Chopin is not from the stable of pianists who produce the droopy Chopin that is in vogue, as his forthright entry in the First Concerto is to demonstrate. Dynamic shading, tempi and shaping of phrases show a new look at the score, and if he takes some liberties in the rhythmic pulse of the central Romanza, he is more faithful to the printed page than most other recordings. The Fantasia on Polish Airs finds Nebolsin charming the ear, while he uses Krakowiak as a virtuoso showpiece. The Warsaw Philharmonic, with Antoni Wit conducting, plays a very positive role in the strength of the three performances.

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