Chopin Vlado Perlemuter - The Nimbus Recordings

"... there is an overall consistency of style in his approach that places the interpretations in a somewhat distant era from our own. Things are unhurried. Phrases are allowed to make their effect through subtle suggestion, rather than by direct and defined statement. The overriding impression is of Chopin as an elegant personality moved in climaxes or quiet moments to express passion and poetry respectively ..."

James Methuen-Campbell, Gramophone

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Disc 1 - Perlemuter’s Chopin represents by far the most extensive part of his Nimbus discography. It’s also the repertoire by which, one assumes, posterity will best remember him, though my own view is that his Ravel recordings are in a way more candid evidence of his musicianship, and were, moreover, made earlier so better preserve his virtuosic and digitally elevated musicianship at its late peak. There are individual Chopin discs, and a 6 CD boxed set which consolidates all his recordings for the company. His Etudes vary in tempo decisions. The first two of the Op.10 set are quite deliberate whereas the third, in E, is up to tempo, its contrary motion octaves dispatched with authority. There is an unhurried nobility about the fifth, though No.7 can seem somewhat impersonal. The Op.25 set sports a finely poetic A flat, and a direct, affecting (within his limits) C sharp minor. There’s marvellous pointing and a sense of colour in the – again – deliberately phrased G flat.

Disc 2 - This selection of Nocturnes reveals Perlemuter’s aesthetic to be decidedly different from his teacher Cortot, and indeed such as, say, Rubinstein or Moravec. The sense of directness established by his Fauré Nocturne recordings is apparent here too. This can be heard not merely in linear directness but in a gimlet, directional approach that eschews decorative sensibilities. Thus his Op.9 No.3 is fast, almost terse. He lashes into the central panel of Op.15 No.1 with vehemence, and there is natural authority, clarity and subtle nuance in its Op. companion in F sharp minor. His D flat major (Op.27 No.2) is lit by colour shading, pellucid runs and a refined tonal palette. His Op.62 No.1 is extremely fast and will sound brusque to those weaned on the pianists noted above.

Disc 3 - His Third Scherzo doesn’t have the fleetness or grand seigniorial sense of fantasy of, say, Moiseiwitsch, whose mature 1949 recording is considerably quicker but also more inimitable than Perlemuter’s own. The Mazurkas are an intriguing case study. I find them decidedly straight, as if he were involved on a demystifying quest. Op.59 No.1 is too cut and dried, Op.63 No.2 is tonally quite hard, up to tempo, but uningratiating. Op.68 No.4 is unruffled, unaffected, unindulgent, rather matter of fact. Throughout, in these works, his aesthetic is decidedly individualistic and uncompromising, refusing to countenance intimacies or too many inflexions.

Disc 4 - Here we find Perlemuter at his most consistent, his most consonant and his most intriguing. He’s strong, virile when necessary and he avoids any externalised romantic show. His Preludes have an integrity about them which is not granitic but which impresses through sheer authority. That said, his technique is not what it was, and unsympathetic auditors will find some of these performances too clinical in detail and too cool in feeling.

Disc 5 - His Ballades offer a consistently more engaging balance between expression and hauteur. Despite a few trivial slips, the G minor is characterful and richly engrossing, and the equality of free-wheeling drama and introspection embedded in the Second in F is purposefully realised. The third Ballade is very fine indeed and the Fourth, if anything, finer still in its sense of lyrical expression and narrative drama. The Polonaises offer virtuosic flair. I might be inclined to recommend this disc first to a newcomer to his Chopin recordings. It is conspicuously intelligent playing, tonally rich, musically elevated, wholly rewarding.

Disc 6 - This is an august pairing that shows Perlemuter to have retained his fabled digital finesse well into the 1970s and beyond, though his playing in 1974 is clearly and I think demonstrably superior. Fortunately both sonatas were taped in 1974. The B minor is captivating in its sectional control, tonal sophistication and sense of characterisation. If it doesn’t aim at the highest level of emotional involvement, then that was Perlemuter’s way. The companion B flat minor [No.2] is a powerful study in contrasts, with tonal beauty, a stratified sense of colour and a profoundly moving funeral march at its heart.

Jonathan Woolf,

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