Four Ballades; Four Impromptus; 24 Preludes; 20 Nocturnes
Yuan Sheng (pn)
PIANO 0049 (3 CDs: 200:51)
“When I feel out of sorts, I play on an Erard piano where I easily find a ready-made tone,” Chopin said. “But when I feel in good form and strong enough to find my own individual sound, then I need a Pleyel piano.” A wonderfully expressive pianist…I feel as if I can’t praise him enough….Yuan Sheng plays an 1845 Pleyel piano on these three discs, and it makes a difference. Sheng writes informatively about the virtues of this piano, its “silvery and slightly veiled sonority” and its “lightness of touch.” It’s up to us to write about his sensitivity, his agility, his rhythmic strength, his ability to make that piano work for modern listeners. In the opening bars of the Third Ballade, he is able to play with almost indescribable sensitivity, and yet play as percussively as necessary. This is not lightweight Chopin. The last of the preludes is as intense, even threatening, as I’ve heard it played. Sheng seems to be able to provide more variety of sound on his ancient piano than we are used to with modern pianos. For me, all his expressive devices, the terraced dynamics, the occasional rubatos, work. I’ve never heard anything like the powerful bass strokes with which he finishes the preludes: They are veiled, yes, but like veiled hammers coming down. His nocturnes are just as expressive. It seems as if his piano and his technique were made for those poetic pieces, as we hear in the way he seems to recede in the tentative sounding midsection of the Nocturne, op. 9/1, and in the hush with which he surrounds the Nocturne, op. 27/2, one of my favorites. This is superior Chopin playing by any standards.