Ronald Smith (1922-2004) was one of the most distinguished British pianists of the immediate post-war era. These recordings, made for Nimbus when he was in his late sixties, show that his technical command was still formidable at this stage of his career. As a whole, these are very fine performance. Throughout this disc, Smith's rubato is consistently well judged, with none of the expressive mannerisms that spoil other Chopin recordings.
The Op. 25 set also receives a superb reading. Op. 25 No. 3 is played with real panache. The lyrical central section of Op. 25 No. 5 is lovingly presented. The ninth study (in G flat major) is played with real humour. The performance of the final study has real grandeur and brings the disc to an imposing close.
The joy of these performances is that they are old-fashioned in the best sense. The interpretations are deeply musical and are clearly the fruit of considerable experience. Smith may not have possessed the invincible technical perfection of Perahia, but he was a pianist who clearly put the music first, stubbornly refusing to intrude between composer and listener. This is increasingly rare today.
The sound is good and the booklet contains valuable notes by Ronald Smith himself. While it would be futile to put this disc forward as the definitive version of the Chopin Etudes, it is certainly worth investigating, because Smith's way with this music has a special charm of its own.
David Jennings, Musicweb-international.com