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After his album of Waltzes and a handful of Nocturnes in Volume 4, Louis Lortie has turned his attention to Chopin’s output of Polish dances for his latest collection, rounded off by the virtuosic Allegro de concert in A major (1841). The imaginatively constructed programme mixes three sets of Mazurkas – early (1830-1), middle (1837-8) and late (1845), rightly played as complete sets – punctuated by the two Op 26 Polonaises, equally correctly kept separate, and the F-sharp minor Op 44. In Lortie’s expert hands, this nicely contrasts Chopin’s treatments of the dances: the Mazurkas as miniatures, usually in intimate groups (here five, four and three respectively), but the Polonaises as altogether grander, more complex dance fantasies, individually on the same scale as the Mazurka sets (the F-sharp minor Polonaise outlasts either the Op 7 or Op 59 Mazurkas).

Size isn’t everything, of course, and there is subtlety aplenty in the Mazurkas, minor gems full of harmonic and rhythmic sidesteps albeit structurally relatively straightforward. Lortie’s earlier volumes have been criticised in some quarters for being too cool, but I rather like this quality, whether in the evergreen Mazurka in B-flat major Op 7/1 or the ebb and flow in the Allegro de concert. For all the virtuosity and vivacity demanded by the works, the overall feeling here is one of intimacy, the refinement and control of his playing allowing the music to breathe in ways one does not always hear in Chopin. Chandos’ recording, made at Potton Hall, is beautifully engineered, intimate and delicately focused providing a small recital room ambience at the centre of which is a superb Fazioli Model F 278.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica

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