Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Operatic Chopin

Some of my favorite music is that of Frederic Chopin, including almost his whole oeuvre which I find appealing and eminently listenable, but there are selections that I find particularly song-like. It is this music that I refer to as the "operatic Chopin". A couple of examples will help define this aspect of his work (although in some respects this permeates many of his longer pieces).
Among the those that I love the most is the Fantasie in f minor, Op. 49. This is from his later compositions and demonstrates the mature style of the composer exhibiting both boldness and originality that, unfortunately, due to his ill-health he was not able to fully develop. Starting with a march that strides forward leading the listener into the piece, he develops an over-arching message that comprises both the storm & fury of development with the calming beauty of soaring melody. This is what I call both operatic in character and romantic in feeling and approach. Yet another march leads to triumphant music that ultimately descends to a calming resolution and close. The whole is an unforgettable operatic tone poem that defies categorization. Fantastic is an appropriate description.
I find Chopin's Ballades to share this operatic tone. My favorites are the first (Op. 23) and fourth (Op. 52) which both exhibit some of the same romantic inventiveness and melodic character. Among the many performances of these pieces available I find those of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Ivan Moravec and Artur Rubenstein, while all very different, to be particularly felicitous. Moravec's approach is thoughtful and Rubenstein is a classic portrayer of this music. Michelangeli's live concert recording of his March, 1957 performance at Royal Albert Hall is eccentric, but electrifying.

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, the EMI live recording, London 1957. Testament #SBT2088
Ivan Moravec, Chopin. Vox Classics #VXP 7908
Artur Rubenstein, The Chopin Collection: The Ballades, The Scherzos. RCA #RCD1-7156

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