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Leif Ove Andsnes’ love for Chopin’s four Ballades started in his teens, according to Damien Fowler’s booklet note, but although the first three for a time formed part of his repertoire he set them aside for over a decade. The Fourth in F minor, with its daunting demands, remained unplayed by him. Now, however, a little older and a more seasoned interpreter, the time seemed right to re-engage with Chopin and meet the challenge of No 4.

As usual with Andsnes’ programmes, the context plays an important role in how he communicates. Here, the four Ballades, which collectively have the bulk and weight of a 40-minute sonata, are punctuated by three Nocturnes dating from 1830 to 1846 – in other words written before, during and after the four larger pieces. The selection is nicely judged, moving from the relative simplicity of Op 15/1, through the darker, graver landscape of Op 48/1 to the miraculous fusion of the guileless and the sophisticated in Op 62/1.

The Ballades take the Nocturnes’ blend of abstract and illustrative to altogether deeper and more emotionally complex dimensions and (as with Angela Brownridge’s Channel Classics recording which I reviewed last spring), they dominate the disc. Andsnes’ accounts are beautifully phrased, smooth and more intimately recorded, as if one were eavesdropping on the pianist’s private reverie. Tempi are consistently a touch slower than Brownridge’s. If pressed, I would choose Brownridge’s interpretations with their slightly greater intensity, but there is very little between them. Sony’s sound and acoustic are certainly finer, and Andsnes’ programme makes a satisfying whole. Strongly recommended.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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