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FREDERIC CHOPIN - 24 Preludes, Op. 28 - Horacio Gutiérrez (Piano) - 090404947926 - Released: October 2016 - Bridge 9479

Alfred Cortot, the first pianist to release a recording back in 1926 of the complete set of the 24 Preludes, Op. 28 by Frédéric Chopin, added a brief descriptive epithet to each prelude in an attempt to identify the emotive creative impulse behind each one. Tags such as Rebellion, Descent into the abyss, Death is here in the shadows, Fear, Above a grave, Tree full of songs, etc ... go a long way in establishing the mood within each piece, that pianists can use as an expressive springboard for their individual interpretation. I personally find these descriptive monickers to be very accurate in fleshing out the character of each prelude and yet allowing full freedom of expression. Don't get fooled by the relative brevity and size (a handful of them only run for 30 seconds or so) of these works. They are bursts of profound creativity composed during a particularly bad winter when Chopin's health was on the decline, but most of them are more substantial and more emotionally stimulating than much longer efforts by other lesser composers.

The Cuban-American pianist Horacio Gutiérrez records rather rarely, with this Bridge Records recording being his first solo piano release in many, many years. Some of you may remember him from his great concerto recordings on the Telarc label, back when that label was a major player in the classical music world. His technique is so strong, that he doesn't need to sacrifice speed for detailed clarity and melodic emphasis (No. 8 in F-sharp minor for example). And he always seems to bring out the emotive core of each slow piece without having to slow tempos down to a torpor, a bad habit favored by too many pianists these days. His playing is always focused on the inner workings and highly harmonic logic of Chopin, which naturally projects the music's exposed soul. There's no need to exaggerate Chopin, the passion is inherent to the music. Something Gutiérrez obviously understands and carries over to the keyboard.

I would have liked to hear more Chopin or maybe some Scriabin as filler on this CD, as these two composers share the same harmonic language and poetic vision, but at 30 minutes in duration the Fantasie, Op. 17 by Robert Schumann is certainly more than just filler. It is, in its own way, the struggle of an artist coming to terms with life through musical expression. But whereas Chopin saw the keyboard as a large, blank and open canvas to paint on, Schumann always seemed inhibited by it.

Jean-Yves Duperron - November 2016