This new album by Convivium Records features pianist, professor, lecturer, music historian and philosopher Alberto Nones exploring the forms, emotions and intricacies of Fryderyk Chopin’s three very different, yet similarly named, ‘Fantasies’.
Nones opens the 30 minute recital with the ever-popular Fantasie-Impromptu op. 66, composed in 1835, and, as Nones notes in the album insert, originally titled simply ‘Impromptu’ by Chopin himself. The title here refers to the classical impromptu structure of A-B-A, simple enough to retain an air of the improvisational nature reinforced by the grace and fluidity of the piece, but with all the compositional forethought and mastery Chopin is known for. Nones plays the initial virtuosic section with admirable restraint and decorum, flowing seamlessly into the more relaxed, contemplative middle section, and returning to the Romantic extravaganza and final coda section to conclude.
The following piece, Fantasie op. 49 is significant in this trio as being the first piece specifically titled ‘Fantasie’ by Chopin, though not conforming as much to the virtuosic or improvisational guidelines that categorised a ‘Fantasie’ at the time. Indeed, what strikes the listener most after hearing the previous piece is Chopin’s deliberate and decisive movement away from the triadic A-B-A structure of the ‘Fantasie Impromptu’, and instead venturing into a freer structure exploring and combining different styles: from the opening march figure to the religious chorale inspired Lento sostenuto section. Nones conveys the new sense of exploration superbly, handling each section with equal measures of musical sensitivity and confidence that make for the sort of performance in which the listener can close their eyes and be truly immersed.
Finally for this CD, and finally for any piece titled ‘Fantasie’ by Chopin, is op. 61, Polonaise-Fantasie, composed between 1845-46. Intriguingly, in this instance the title ‘Fantasie’ appears to have been chosen due to the fact that Chopin simply didn’t know what else to call the piece, so uncategorisable was the form/structure. This is hinted at by a letter to his parents in which he described op. 61 as “Something I don’t know what to call”. Again blurring, or rather developing, elements of various compositional structures, Chopin takes the listener on a journey that explores the traditional Polish stately dance from which the piece takes the other half of its title, with a more complex and periodically idiomatic loose sonata form that gave him the freedom to express the sense of homelessness and estrangement among Polish citizens during the complicated political situation in Poland and Russia in the 19th century. Dynamic contrast and textural variety, particularly through pedalling and masterfully placed moments of silence, form key elements of this piece, and Nones executes Chopin’s intentions with clear respect, yet with feeling, subtlety, and the natural intonation that is the reason music is played by humans and not robots.
A highly virtuosic and deeply engaging performance, combining all the the melodic elegance, rhythmic complexities and emotional sympathies befitting of a great Chopin recital. Where this performance really stands out, and where the maturity and experience of an accomplished pianist shines through however, is the manner in which Nones remains in control at all times, never letting the colourful Romantic flourishes run away from him, and avoiding the excessive dramatisation and self-indulgent flamboyance that so often leads less experienced performers to burlesque the intentions of the composer.
For this review I listened to the CD on a Primare CD35, into the ATC SIA2-100 integrated amplifier, and out into Dali Oberon 7s via Chord Shawline speaker cable. The traditional Scandinavian pairing of Dali and Primare of course sounded fantastic as usual, but what surprised me was the British amplifier which, having sounded almost too accurate to the point of clinical in the past, in this system actually delivered a very delicate sound that complemented Nones’s performance marvellously.