Firma Melodiya continues the series of compact discs dedicated to December Evenings Festival that takes place at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. This album, like the previous one, is dedicated to the 1985 festival World of Romanticism and includes recordings featuring Sviatoslav Richter. The atmosphere of December Evenings, an event initiated by the great pianist, differed from usual philharmonic concerts. The spirit of music as an inseparable part of "fusion of arts" the romanticists dreamt of was invisibly felt in each number; a sensitive listener can catch it in these, perhaps technically imperfect, concert recordings from thirty years ago. The works by Schubert, Schumann and Chopin were performed by Sviatoslav Richter in ensemble with his outstanding contemporaries, violinist and David Oistrakh's student Oleg Kogan who passed away prematurely, violist Yuri Bashmet, cellist Natalia Gutman and clarinettist Anatoly Kamyshov.
Other than Rubinstein, there is no greater Chopin interpreter than Horowitz, and in his single greatest work – the second sonata which is the highlight of this disc – I find Horowitz preferable because Rubinstein takes the great funeral march of the third movement too slowly, whereas Horowitz' direct approach conveys an even deeper sense of melancholy and tragedy. That said, this is a superb sampling of Horowitz' art, even better than the first volume of this series, with unworldly playing and fine sound quality for an analogue recording. The second sonata is second to none, and the shorter pieces are all very familiar and superbly played.
One of the greatest cellists of the twentieth century, a performer who combined technical brilliance with soulful expressiveness, Danil Shafran was born in 1923, in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Shafran's first teacher was his father, who was the principal cellist of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra.
The new recordings of Chopin's works on period instruments allow contemporary listeners to discover the historical models, bringing us closer to the original and to the long-forgotten sound of the Romantic era.
"Arrau's Chopin – now available in a six-CD box (Philips 432 303-2) as part of Philips's Arrau Edition – is as far from moonstruck "sentimentality" as any Chopin ever was. But no performance of the Preludes is more sentimental, in Schiller's sense, than the version Arrau recorded for Philips in 1973. Its premise – that the cycle is a grand tragedy, the darkest thing Chopin wrote – is unmistakable. Even the prefatory C-major Prelude heaves with orgasmic rubatos – more weight, it seems, than the music can possibly bear. And yet, as Arrau packs each small berth with a world of feeling, the weight grips and holds. At times, the sheer density of emotion can seem suffocatingly intense. The Prelude No. 22, a Stygian descent, is surely Hades; the plunging scales of No. 24 rip the thread of life."