Gramophone

Editor’s Choice March 2006

Editor’s Comments: “A revelatory, probing disc from Bernard d’Ascoli. Anyone who thought of the Chopin sonatas [sic] as comfortable, even somnolent music must think again. D’Ascoli unflinchingly plumbs the underbelly of these works, finding a deliberately uncomfortable sense of bleakness. Many have recorded these pieces, but d’Ascoli proves that there is still more to be said. And, at the same time, announces himself as a top-flight pianist.”

Let me say at once that even in a heavily competitive marketplace this ranks among the most remarkable of Chopin Nocturne recordings. Courting controversy at one level yet burningly sincere at another, Bernard d’Ascoli goes his own heartwarming way unburdened by tradition. For him, the Nocturnes are not a world of sweet dreams but possess a troubled and assertive life. True, simplicity is hardly has byword (in nos. 1, 6 and 11, his intense rubato often tugs against the music’s natural line), yet such bold and declamatory playing is never less than enlivening, positively forbidding the listener to sink into complacency or repose. An impetuous thrust given to the D flat Nocturne’s long-breathed Italianate lines, and the sudden plunge into darkness at the end of op.32 no. 1 are two among many examples of performances of a living, breathing presence, the opposite of studio-bound.

The two extra posthumous Nocturnes are added for good measure and the ever-popular Op.9 no. 2 comes complete with flashing variants authorised by the composer. The recordings are vivid and immediate and the outstanding notes (a provocative sideswipe at Fauré notwithstanding) are by the pianist himself.

Loves of a personal but more customary Chopin style will turn to Maria Joao Pires and most of all to the elegant and silken-toned Rubinstein whose inimitable readings are available on Naxos. But hopefully, d’Ascoli’s most stimulating Chopin series will continue.

—Bryce Morrison