Label : Decca
Format : Flac (image + cue)
Cover : Yes

Decca originally programmed and issued Vladimir Ashkenazy’s 1974-84 complete solo Chopin survey on LP in reverse chronological order of composition (more or less), apart from the separately standing Op. 10 and Op. 25 Etudes. The material was reorganized by genre for the cycle’s first integral CD presentation as a space-saving, budget-priced 13-CD set. Decca now repackages the cycle to commemorate Chopin’s 200th birthday year, with fresh notes by Jeremy Siepmann and new cover art. Otherwise, no changes, and no remastering (so far as I can tell). Ashkenazy’s Nocturnes range from limpid and reflective (Op. 15 No. 2) to uncommonly fleet (Op. 37 No. 1) or bleak (Op. 55 No. 2). His Op. 28 Préludes abound with insights (No. 5’s italicized phrasings, No. 9’s arguably exaggerated double-dotted notes, No. 11’s teasing introductory measures), as do the Waltzes (the magically nuanced C-sharp minor Op. 64 No. 3 and sparkling G-flat Op. 70 No. 1) and Impromptus. The Scherzos are better integrated and more variegated in detail than the pianist’s mid-’60s Decca versions, although the tighter, more fluent 1970s Ballades lack their earlier counterparts’ outward drama and wider dynamic range.

The Second and Third sonatas, F minor Fantasy, and Barcarolle sport too many rhetorical sidebars for my taste, in contrast to the crisp, direct, and scintillating minor works, particularly the Rondos. Likewise, the earlier, least played of the Polonaises ignite Ashkenazy’s inspiration more than the genre’s mature masterpieces.

However, Ashkenazy’s Mazurka interpretations prove as varied and refreshing as the compositions themselves, and he offers Chopin’s final work, the F minor Mazurka Op. 68 No. 4 in both the originally published edition and in Arthur Hedley’s expanded revision. For the most part you can understand the Etudes’ longstanding reference reputation–at least in Ashkenazy’s shimmering, sparsely pedaled Op. 10 No. 1, Op. 25 No. 4’s breathtaking skips, and in Op. 25 No. 6’s awesomely dispatched double thirds.

Decca’s sonics range from full-bodied and clear to tubby and strident. While collectors may prefer other pianists in specific works, Ashkenazy’s generally high batting average in Chopin easily warrants a solid recommendation.

Tracklist : Chopin – Works for Solo Piano – Ashkenazy