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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Étude Op. 25 No.7 in C-sharp minor [5:20]
Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35 in B-flat minor [26:04]
Ballade No.3 Op. 47 in A-flat major [7:51]
Nocturne Op. 48 No.1 in C minor [6:13]
Nocturnes Op. 27 No. 1 in C-sharp minor [5:30]
Nocturnes Op. 27 No. 2 in D-flat major [6:19]
Mazurka Op. 63 No.3 in C-sharp minor [2:09]
Mazurka Op. 63 No.2 in F minor [1:39]
Mazurka Op. 68 No.4 in F minor [1:50]
Mazurka Op. 41 No.2 in E minor [2:18]
Mazurka Op. 67 No.4 in A minor [2:52]
Ballade No.4 Op. 52 in F minor [11:42]
Waltz Op. 69 No.2 in B minor [3:01]
Naum Grubert (piano)
rec. Westvest 90, Schiedem, no date given
NAVIS CLASSICS NC17005 [45:31 + 37:23]

The Latvian pianist Naum Grubert (b.1951) studied with Theodore Gutman in Moscow. He was a prize-winner in the 1978 Tchaikovsky Competition, and was a laureate in both the Montréal Piano Competition and the Russian National Competition. After touring extensively, he now resides in The Netherlands, where he holds professorships at the Amsterdam Conservatory and the Royal Conservatoire in the Hague.

He’s put a great deal of thought and planning into this finely balanced Chopin recital. There's an element of tristesse running throughout, beginning with the Étude Op. 25, No. 7 in C-sharp minor. This has to be one of the most expressive pieces the composer ever penned, and Grubert contours the left hand melody with poetic intensity. It's a fitting opener and provides a curtain-raiser for the Second Piano Sonata, which Alfred Cortot espoused as a poem of death. At it's centre is the famed funeral march whose “dark rays”, according to Grubert, “are cast in all directions”. Grubert's bold and forthright opening to the first movement states that he means business. He achieves some powerful, rich sonorities, but can scale his playing down when required. Rubato never intrudes. The lyrical second subject is elegantly phrased. The Scherzo has a demonic quality, and sufficient contrast is made in the song-like trio section. The Funeral March owes its success to the avoidance of any hint of sentimentality. In the enigmatic finale, Grubert unleashes a torrent, evoking the words of Arthur Rubinstein: “One hears the winds of night sweeping over churchyard graves, the dust blowing and the dust that remains”. The doleful element carries through into the Nocturne Op. 48 No. 1. Introspective like the Étude, its opening theme could almost be a funeral elegy. At its centre is a solemn chorale, with the piece ending in despair. Nestled between it and the Sonata is the Third Ballade, a convincing reading, which surfs its ebb and flow with surety and conviction.

The bleak outer sections of the Nocturne Op. 27 No. 1 are captured with vivid starkness, and the central section truly packs a punch. Op. 27 no. 2, with its fioritura style, is delicately refined and shaded. It is significant that the five Mazurkas selected are in minor keys, and each imparts a soulful and nostalgic vein, and speaks with simplicity and directness. The Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4 may have been Chopin’s very last composition. I enjoyed the performance of the the Fourth Ballade, my favorite Chopin work. Grubert brings rhythmic freedom and a wide dynamic range to its, at times, turbulent narrative. The fiendish coda is negotiated with passionate ardour and breathtaking virtuosity. The encore which concludes the recital is the B minor Waltz, Op. 69, No. 2, wistfully etched.

This is a deeply satisfying and well-conceived programme. Grubert has the advantage of a superb Steinway, and the engineers have successfully captured his warm, tonally diverse sonorities to marvellous effect.

Stephen Greenbank



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