Burkard Schliessmann has been gathering critical praise for some time now. It is, frankly, good to report on a young pianist who concentrates on pianistic color and still respects the music’s structure. The emphasis on color presumably has much to do with his period of study with Shura Cherkassky. Schliessmann has previously recorded Chopin for the Bayer label, to critical acclaim.

So to Chronological Chopin , the current 3-SACD set (the playing order is not as neat as the review title above might imply, given the chronological slant: the op. 45 Prélude occurs in the midst of the second disc while the op. 28 Préludes set on disc one, for example).

Schliessmann provides long and articulate booklet notes explaining his passion for Chopin before quoting reviews of the works at the time of composition, quoting other people on Chopin (from George Sand’s daughter through Nietzsche to Debussy and Anton Rubinstein). The interpretations themselves dwell on beauty and the lyrical. The heart-on-sleeve “passion” that one so often associates with Chopin is either absent or played down; as if to compensate, Schliessmann regularly finds beauties in these scores others are lucky if they hint at. His passion is of an altogether more profound sort. As an alternative method of Chopin interpretation alone, Schliessmann is worth hearing for every pianist and every student of Chopin’s music. Something like the C sharp-Minor Prélude (heard midway through the second disc) works perfectly in Schliessmann’s hands, and he indeed offers a performance of such exquisite cantabile and such enshrouded pain coupled with luminous textures that one forgets all others while listening. He starts, though, with the B-Minor Scherzo, and his opening may surprise many. It is neither fire-breathing nor overly careful; the impression one gets is of a pianist for whom every note must speak. Similarly, his First Ballade becomes more multi-faceted than any other in this reviewer’s memory; it even includes jocular moments. The coda might by many be labelled “slow”; it dances and flickers rather than storms. Welcome to the world of Burkard Schliessmann. There is every danger that the listener will either love it or hate it.

Schliessmann and his Steinway (impeccably recorded at Teldex Studios, Berlin) make such a burnished tone it seems impossible to imagine an ugly sound. Indeed, such an idea clearly has no place in Schliessmann’s Weltanschauung . It is this, plus his intelligent approach, that makes his F-Minor Fantaisie stand out, his liquid delicacy ravishing the ears while his analytical side takes the steering wheel and guides the listener expertly (and probably unknowingly) through the piece. The 24 Préludes have their quirks: the left-hand of the G-Major, for example, sounds like it is notated in fast eighth notes rather than sixteenth notes. These slower tempos may worry some-the Presto con fuoco No. 16 does rather sound like a practice speed-yet even doubters cannot surely fail to come under the spell of Préludes such as the E-Minor (beautifully shaded and dark). The final D-Minor is underpowered; but this remains an important performance.

I doubt there is a more beautiful Fourth Ballade on record, nor a more beautifully recorded one. Indeed, the final disc is arguably the crowning glory of this set. The articulation at speed in the Fourth Scherzo is remarkable, as is some of the sonic beauty encountered here. No surprise, therefore, that the Berceuse and Barcarolle are absolutely magical, the Berceuse revelatory in its inevitable unfolding, the Barcarolle less pedalled than one might expect, more able to stand up for itself. Finally, the huge interpretative challenge of the Polonaise-Fantaisie. This is a piece that suits Schliessmann perfectly; the deconstructive elements are laid bare for all to hear. Single lines speak volumes. As the piece attempts to reclaim its Polonaise status, we are sucked into the elusive argument of one of Chopin’s most interpretatively demanding pieces.

A remarkable set, in many ways.

—Colin Clarke