CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11. Piano Concerto
No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21
While I can appreciate Zimerman's dedication to his chosen task, the end result -- while distinctive in its own way -- is rather disappointing. No question that the accompaniment is focused and sensitive; you will here felicities of nuance unheard in any other performance. Exaggerated pauses abound; a dreamy atmosphere pervades. Doubtless never before has there been such an intimate interplay between soloist and orchestra in these concertos. But somewhere along the line excitement has diminished, particularly in the first concerto . Chopin was a master pianist who composed some of the most difficult music ever written for the instrument, particularly in the first concerto. Zimerman's studied slow tempos and overly introspective approach virtually eliminate keyboard brilliance. One example of Zimerman's leisurely approach is the brief three-bar cadenza towards the end of the second movement of the first concerto. This takes 33 seconds in the new recording; Zimerman's live 1979 performance with the Concertgebouw took but 20, rather standard for this very brief idyllic interlude. The second concerto (actually the first composed) isn't as virtuosic as the first. The Larghetto second movement played by Zimerman is just too slow -- 11:06 -- compared to Artur Rubinstein's 8:34, Alfred Cortot's 8:50; even the aberrant Samson Francois plays it in but 8:34.
Perhaps others will find this new perspective on the Chopin concertos of more interest than I do. For the Concerto No. 1 I'd prefer the first Argerich recording, Emil Gilels, Artur Rubinstein's second recording, or the remarkable Yevgeny Kissin 1984 live performance. For Concerto No. 2, try Vladimir Ashenazy, Claudio Arrau or Artur Rubinstein.
If Zimerman is so dedicated to Chopin's works for piano and orchestra why didn't he also perform at least one of his other works for the combination ( Fantasy on Polish Airs, Op. 13, Krakowiak, Op. 14, Grande Polonaise, Op. 22, or the early Variations on Mozart's "La ci darem la mano," Op. 2.)? As it was necessary for two CDs to accommodate the concertos there would have been sufficient room for these as well.
R.E.B. (Nov. 1999)