International Record Review

The title of this release is interesting in itself, and a suitable subtitle could be ‘Chopin Favourites and Rarities’. The first three works in the above list are world famous: the F minor Piano Concerto, E flat major Nocturne and D flat major Valse (the Minute Waltz), while Chopin’s C major Rondo , Op. 73, and his ‘Rossini’ and ‘Moore’ Variations are rarely heard, and the Rondo, originally written for solo piano, is performed here in Chopin’s subsequent two-piano arrangement. Then there are the Brahms, Sch?tt and Goldstone works, each of them based on a famous piece or pieces by Chopin, but the first two are seldom played, which Goldstone’s piquantly named Revolutionary Raindrop Rag was written especially for this recording.

By far the greatest and most substantial piece is the Piano Concerto No. 2, but Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow play it in a two-piano version wherein the orchestral part is given to the second piano, so that even this is at once a favourite and a rarity. The arrangement is of unusual interest, however, because some of its orchestral music (the tuttis during which the solo piano is silent) was arranged by Chopin himself, which in the passages where the soloist is playing, the piano reduction by Chopin’s pupil, teaching assistant and editor, Carl (Karol) Mikuli, is used. For those whose first acquaintance with Chopin’s works was provided by the G. Schirmer edition, Mikuli’s name appears in dark green on many of its bright yellow covers. (The other Schirmer Chopin volumes were edited by Rafael Joseffy.)

Anyone who has ever doubted the clarity, effectiveness and sheer beauty of Chopin’s orchestral writing (in both of his Piano Concertos) will have a change of heart after hearing the present two-piano version of the F minor. Whatever reservations one has about it, however, are almost a foregone conclusion that has nothing to do with its performance here, in which Goldstone and Clemmow do their utmost to project the work’s wonderful balance between drama and lyricism. Inevitably, the piano-saturated sonority can sound opaque (and the resonant recording acoustic adds to this), which in the impassioned central recitative of the slow movement, the second piano cannot match the effect of Chopin’s vibrant string tremolandos. There are also occasional unexpected compensations, such as the bassoon line in the Larghetto’s recapitulation, which stands out in even clearer relief than in the orchestral version. A moment of inadvertent humour occurs in the second piano’s F major horn call at the start of the coda of the Allegro vivace finale.

The three other original works by Chopin are obviously not on the same level of inspiration, but their unfamiliarity still makes them worth hearing. The C major Rondo begins with a florid, declamatory slow Introduction that features dotted rhythms and some punctuating chords. The Rondo itself passes through some interesting tonal regions that lend contrast to its principal white-note key. The ‘Rossini’ Variations are Goldstone’s arrangement for one piano, four hands of Chopin’s youthful, only known work for flute and piano, on a theme from La Cenerentola , in which the primo (treble) part elaborates the original flute writing. The four-hand aspect returns in the Variations on a National Air of Moore in D major, which is the only surviving duet on a single piano definitely by Chopin.

Goldstone’s completion supplies the missing treble or bass parts on the first and last pages of the autograph manuscript, themselves missing and supplied by the Polish pianist Jan Ekier after the work’s first publication in 1965. Thomas Moore (1779-1852) was an Irish poet who often invented new words for extant Irish melodies, of which the best-known is ‘Tis the Last Rose of Summer’. Chopin’s work is charming and delightful, and includes a surprising variety of moods and piano textures within some eight minutes of music.

The two other well-known Chopin works included are Ottilie Sutro’s arrangement of the E flat major Nocturne and Frederick Corder’s of the Minute Waltz. The nocturne is taken at not too slow a tempo, which maintains a classical, serenade-like quality, even with its melodic enrichments à deux . Even the small-note cadenza near the end preserves the delicacy of the original. By contrast, the Minute Waltz is not taken too quickly, so that one can really hear Chopin’s vertiginous figuration clearly.

Next come the Chopin-based works by other composers. Brahms’s Etude nach Fr Chopin is a solo piece (transcribed by Goldstone for two pianos) that adds thirds or sixths to the right hand’s triplet quavers (eighth notes) in Chopin’s fleet F minor Étude , Op. 25 No. 2. This evokes Leopold Godowsky’s extraordinary telescoping of Chopin’s two Études in G flat major, with Butterfly , Op. 25 No. 9 in the right hand and the Black Key , Op. 10 No. 5 in the left. The Russian pianist and composer Eduard Sch?tt’s Valse-Paraphrase d’apr ? s Chopin expands upon the elegiac C sharp minor Valse , Op. 64 No. 2, especially the curling arabesques of its recurrent counter-theme.

The programme ends with goldstone’s Revolutionary Raindrop Rag, which refers not only to the respective Chopin étude and prelude of its title but also contains ‘allusions to five more pluvial pieces and one other revolutionary one’. In his booklet note Goldstone advises: ‘To those who cannot abide the idea of “serious” music being requisitioned for (one hopes) comedic effect, I say please press the stop button now.’ I found his piece very witty and entertaining because it goes far enough away from the originals to avoid the ‘hallucinatory’ effect of some of the other arrangements in this programme.

More than a few raindrops of new releases have already begun to sprinkle in preparation for the bicentenary of Chopin’s birth in 2010. Among them, this disc (which includes six world premi ? re recordings) rediscovers a very special individual piece of the jigsaw. Listeners who already know Chopin’s major works will find it fascinating to add this to their collections, especially as Goldstone’s long, detailed but always readable booklet note provides immaculate documentation about sources, alternative readings, the basis for certain musical decisions in the recording, and biographical notes about the less familiar arrangers. Chopin lovers: please do not hesitate to acquire it.

—Stephen Pruslin