International Record Review

Since winning the Barcelona Competition in 1978, the blind French pianist Bernard d’Ascoli has had an active career, performing throughout Europe, the US, Canada, Japan and Australia, and with such leading conductors as Järvi, Litton, Sanderling and Svetlanov, His recordings have been regrettably few, however, though they have included impressive accounts of the Liszt Sonata, Schumann’s Carnaval and Chopin’s four Ballades. Recently he has added Schumann’s Piano Quintet and the present Chopin disc; and a complete set of Chopin’s Nocturnes will follow.

He obviously has a strong affinity for Chopin’s music and much of the playing on this disc – especially of the Scherzos – reminded me of Rubinstein’s and Ax’s. He shares their directness of approach, firm rhythm, tonal refinement and judicious use of rubato. Textures are clear, melodies are shaped with a singer’s sense of line, and inner voices are handled with subtlety. The expressive qualities of the music speak more spontaneously than in Pollini’s very polished but, to me, overly cool accounts.

D’Ascoli’s well-rounded technique meets every demand of the Scherzos, from the spiky brilliance of No.1 to the bravura octaves of No.3 and the light filigree of No.4. Although he provides plenty of drive and drama when needed (especially in Nos.2 and 3) I find that he makes a lasting impression in the more lyrical moments. The breadth and colour he brings to those passages in Nos.3 and 4 is exceptional, and it’s done with dignity and inner strength, with no hint of sentimentality or fussiness. He also has a fine sense of structure, pacing the transition passages notably well, especially those that lead into the codas. The Impromptus round out this impressive disc with an ideal combination of flexibility and elegance, the variety of sound and mood in No.2 being especially notable. I eagerly await this pianist’s account of the Nocturnes.

—Charles Timbrell