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The Nocturnes of Frédéric Chopin demonstrate how pianists of great renown can interpret the most rigorous score differently. Chopin left extremely detailed markings of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, pedalling, even some fingerings, for his 21 Nocturnes. Yet no two interpretations among the dozens of recordings available are anything like the same.

Now comes the rising French pianist François Dumont with a stunning new version that sets him apart. As Dumont told me recently, ‘One has to learn how to read not only what is written, but also what is implied’.

This 2-CD set brings a clarity, momentum and coherence that immediately grab the ear. His controlled pianissimos imbue the melodies with tender sweetness, and the vigorous middle sections provide the jolting contrasts Chopin sought. Subtle rubato comes and goes. Dumont even takes long pauses between several of the pieces, leaving the listener in a pleasant state of suspension. ‘Sometimes I feel breathing is necessary in order to reflect and absorb what just happened musically,’ he explains.

What keeps the Nocturnes high in the ratings is their variety of styles – from salon music to the full spectrum of Chopin’s growth as a composer between 1827 and 1846. Sentimentality is dominant in some, but two stand out for their sheer power: Op 27/1 in C-sharp minor and Op 48/1 in C minor.

Dumont worked from the recent Polish National Edition from PMW, edited by the late Jan Ekier, thrice chairman of the Warsaw Chopin Competition. Ekier’s markings have been criticised by some for their departure from tradition, but Chopin surely would have approved. He never played his works the same way twice, altering dynamics, improvising and varying ornaments spontaneously.

MICHAEL JOHNSON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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