THE GLORIOUS FIVE

Along with one of Beethoven’s early piano quartets Chopin’s second
piano concerto in f-minor, was recently recorded by the Alexander
String Quartet together with Roger Woodward. Their interpretation
turned out to be a master piece through the use of lean, but colorful
sound effects, the finest agogic and an intimate understanding of the
possibilities of musical rhetoric.

With Radio Bremen as the co-producer, the accompanying booklet does not
offer a translation. But it is ultimately the responsibility of
Celestial Harmonies- from Tucson Arizona- that a German text is not
supplied. This makes the extensive essay in English written by Roger
Woodward even more informative.

It is unusual for a performer to provide such a well informed and
intelligent discussion of the interpreted pieces, and equally unusual
for the underlying performance principles to be discussed in such a
straightforward and sensible fashion, especially the booklet. This
allows Woodward to substantiate his claim that the present chamber
version may have possibly been the original version: “It is possible
that it was in this enlarged string form that the first private
performance was accompanied by a small chamber orchestra form when
Chopin first [……]1830”

Moreover, the unusual instrumentation, at least from current
perspectives, is not out of line with the performance practices of
Chopin’s time: “ The post-Baroque….......... light accompaniment“.
The common late baroque practice of a light string accompaniment in
the form of a quartet or quintet, had already been adopted by Mozart in
his first piano concertos following those of Johann Christian Bach.
Therefore, Chopin’s arrangements followed a well-established tradition.

All these doomsday prophets who blast the string quartet version talk
about Chopin’s lack of orchestration abilities, being too heavy handed,
and the tuttis being too compacted especially because the Alexander
Quartet and Roger Woodward selected the sound of the Boesendorfer over
that of the more dazzling and powerful Steinway. By creating a rich and
highly nuanced sound spectrum these glorious musicians have taken it on
themselves to rehabilitate Chopin and, respectively create the most
translucent sound effects.

Given that Chopin’s most exceptional accomplishment lies in the fact
that he somehow manages to transmit the sound of the Italian bel canto
opera, especially Bellini’s, to the keyboard—an instrument that is by
no means designed to sing—these are the ideal Chopin interpreters.
This applies to both phrasing, and articulation, and as far as the
strings are concerned, to sparing, but yet powerful vibrato openings.

A piano quartet composed by a fifteen-year-old Beethoven is included as
an extra gift, a piece which in many places resembles either a most
professional finger excercise or talent show and in hindsight, may
spark thoughts of genius. Here again it is a remarkable level of
technical mastery that is displayed by the performing musicians.

 

 



“a pianistic genius”  Tom Sutcliffe, The Guardian (Xenakis’ Eonta)