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Chopin and Dutilleux may seem strange bed-fellows but, as Arthur Ancelle explains in his accompanying essay, Dutilleux was of Polish ancestry and a great lover of Chopin. His Piano Sonata, first performed by his wife, Genevieve Joy has, given its stature, appeared too rarely both on record and in the concert hall (though the finale is heard from time to time on the competition circuit, an attraction for pianists undaunted by its virtuoso intricacy). So all praise to Ancelle for his enterprise, and for a performance of overall mastery and clarity. He also makes admirable sense of the Three Preludes, alive to their characteristic blend of vivid colour and abstraction.

There is, of course, fierce competition in the Chopin Ballades, notably from Cortot (wildly but magically idiosyncratic when compared to today’s more puritan ethic), Zimerman and Perahia, to name but three. For Claudio Arrau, the codas of the Ballades represented an ultimate challenge, and it is here in particular that Ancelle disappoints. Why so tame in the First Ballade’s coda, uniquely in Chopin, marked il più forte possible and Presto con fuoco? The dramatic switch from F major to A minor in the Second is also understated; and would Ancelle’s opening to the Fourth Ballade have prompted my late colleague Joan Chissell to speak of the wonder of ‘a blind man acquiring sight’? Ancelle’s cool-headed command is, arguably, a slim compensation for such failings. The Dutilleux is another matter, though I can’t help regretting the absence from the catalogue of Cecile Ousset’s magisterial performance of music considered insuffi ciently commercial by her record company.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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