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  great Chopin interpreters 


Although most pianists have Chopin's music in their repertoire, many critics consider the following pianists the great interpreters of Chopin's music in the past century. Each pianist has a different approach to Chopin, which is personal and unique. Together with their brief biography and artistic comments, you will find some featured recordings which are among the best and most representative recordings of these pianists. Please note that the pianists are arranged according to their year of birth.

               1860     IGNACY JAN PADEREWSKI                1932     ADAM HARASIEWICZ
               1877     ALFRED DENIS CORTOT                1934     VAN CLIBURN
               1887     ARTUR RUBINSTEIN                1937     VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY
               1903     CLAUDIO ARRAU                1941     MARTHA ARGERICH
               1903     VLADIMIR HOROWITZ                1941     IDIL BIRET
               1911     SHURA CHERKASSKY                1942     MAURIZIO POLLINI
               1912     NIKITA MAGALOFF                1944     MARIA JOAO PIRES
               1914     JORGE BOLET                1946     ANGELA LEAR
               1915     SVIATOSLAV RICHTER                1947     MURRAY PERAHIA
               1917     DINU LIPATTI                1948     GARRICK OHLSSON
               1920     ARTURO MICHELANGELI                1951     CYPRIEN KATSARIS
               1921     GEORGES CZIFFRA                1956     KRYSTIAN ZIMERMAN
               1924     SAMSON FRANCOIS                1958     DANG THAI SON
               1930     IVAN MORAVEC                1971     EVGENY KISSIN

Recommended reading and music on great pianists:

- Wilhelm von Lenz, The great piano virtuosos of our time, translated from the German by Madeleine R. Baker, New York, G. Schirmer, 1899

- Philips Classics, Great Pianists of the 20th Century: The Complete Edition (Part 1 and Part 2), Polygram Records, 1997

- James Cooke, Great Pianists: In Their Own Words, Dover, 1999

 

  paderewski 

PaderewskiIGNACY JAN PADEREWSKI
18 November 1860, Kurylówka (Poland)
29 June 1941, New York (USA)

Born 26 years before the death of Liszt and 37 years before the death of Brahms, Paderewski is a pianist steeped in the musical traditions of the nineteenth-century. Elegance, charm, a beautiful singing tone, these were the hallmarks of the day and Paderewski had them all. Ignacy Jan Paderewski was one of the 20th century’s most controversial artists, both for his piano playing and for his life-style, the subject both of mystic reverence and of flat rejection as a charlatan. Paderewski was constantly told by his teachers that he would never make a successful concert pianist (and would later often say that he had not learnt to play or practise properly at the time). But he persevered, and in October 1884, when Theodor Leschetizky accepted him as a pupil, things changed: his first recital in Paris’s Salle Erard and orchestral debut with Saint-Saens’s Fourth Piano Concerto in 1888 catapulted him into orbit around the Parisian music scene, not least thanks to his magnetic stage presence and personal charisma. Still with a limited repertoire, he developed new programs with Leschetizky. After successes throughout Europe, Paderewski made a sensational debut in New York’s Carnegie Hall in November 1891, launching a lifetime of American tours. His standard repertoire mainly Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Brahms and Chopin plus selected pieces by Anton Rubinstein and other contemporaries  also took him to Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa. Paderewski actively supported the Polish struggle for independence with a fierce patriotism that in 1919 made him Poland’s first Prime Minister and its delegate to the Versailles peace conference. On the political stage, he was a brilliant orator with an encyclopedic knowledge of history. His return to the concert platform in November 1922 aroused equal enthusiasm in America, where he was the first classical artist to be comprehensively marketed  with Paderewski dolls, candles, toys and even Paderewski soap. And he needed the money  a big spender, he loved luxury and always traveled in a private railway car with grand piano and full entourage including secretary, valet, piano tuner, tour manager, masseuse and porter. At the height of his career he was noted for his delicate touch, eloquent phrasing and rich expressiveness. He could make the piano sing a whole spectrum of colors, with brilliant use of the pedal. This is impressively documented by the some 100 recordings he made between 1911 and 1938, especially the early ones.
 

Paderewski 1
Pearl-Koch #9397 / 1992
Paderewski 2
Enterprise/Piano Library (Ita) - #217 / 1996

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  cortot 

CortotALFRED DENIS CORTOT
26 September 1877, Nyon (Switzerland)
15 June 1962, Lausanne (Switzerland)

Despite his birth and death in Switzerland, Alfred Cortot is reckoned one of France’s leading artists. Whenever he was not on tour, he was teaching in Paris  first at the Conservatoire where he had studied, later at the ecole Normale de Musique, which he founded in 1919. Dinu Lipatti and Clara Haskil were his most famous pupils. He had been taught by the Chopin pupil Emile Descombes, but valued other teachers more highly: "Diemer taught me piano. Music was revealed to me by Edouard Risler." What Risler "revealed" to him above all was the music of Wagner, which drew Cortot to Bayreuth in 1898. There he gained conducting experience and was assistant to Felix Mottl and Hans Richter; on returning to Paris he conducted the first French performances of Wagner’s Gotterdammerung and Parsifal. At the same time, Cortot vigorously championed young French composers. The piano did not come to the fore again until Cortot founded a legendary trio in 1905 with the violinist Jacques Thibaud and the cellist Pablo Casals. He launched his career as a solo pianist around the same time, enjoying his heyday in the inter-war years. He was particularly admired for his readings of Schumann, Chopin and French composers, and also wrote a series of important books on music, interpretation and piano technique; many more of his ideas are expressed in his editions of Romantic piano works. Cortot’s reputation was dented by his pro-German attitude in the Second World War, when he agreed to be a cultural commissar for the Vichy regime and even returned to Germany in 1942 to give concerts. After the war he was sometimes banned from playing, and he never performed again in North America. Cortot’s piano playing was elegant, lyrical and well-formed; he eschewed bombast and sentimentality. Although he continued to practise four hours a day, his playing grew less accurate, but musical expression always meant more to him than technique. Many critics are still claiming Cortot to be the most poetic interpreter of Chopin music.
 

Preludes, impromtus, barcarolle, berceuse
Cortot 1

EMI 761050 2 / 1988
[GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE DE CHOPIN 1990]
Ballades, Waltzes, Fantaisie, Nocturnes,
Concerto No.2, Two versions of Etudes
Cortot 2
EMI - #0777 7 67359 2 4 / 1992

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  rubinstein 

RubinsteinARTUR RUBINSTEIN
28 January 1887, Lodz (Poland)
20 December 1982, Geneva (Switzerland)

One of the most beloved artists of the twentieth century, Rubinstein had the ability to charm as well as to thrill audiences everywhere he went. Possessed of an appetite for life as well as for music, he could be seen in the finest restaurants after a concert in the company of Picasso or Stravinsky eating, drinking and smoking (the finest Havanas) until the early hours of the morning. A Chopin specialist but wonderful in all the Romantics. Till he was very old Artur Rubinstein described himself as the happiest person he had ever met. He certainly combined equal measures of musical genius and joie de vivre, making him one of the greatest and best-loved artists of the 20th century. Rubinstein began his career with irregular lessons, partly teaching himself, and made his first public appearance in 1894 in Lodz; in 1897 Joseph Joachim began supervising him, and he had music lessons with Heinrich Barth and at the Berlin Conservatory. Rubinstein was given his school education by a tutor, and by the age of fourteen he could read German, English, French, Russian and Polish literature in the original. In 1903 he moved to Paris, debuting there in 1904. January 1906 marked his first appearance at Carnegie Hall, dismissed by critics as too "artistic." Back in Paris, Rubinstein was soon a darling of high society, showing off his vivacious character and exceptional skills in salon circles. But this life of luxury could not last. Deep in debt and depression, Rubinstein tried to hang himself in 1908 with the cord of his bathrobe. Luckily, it tore  and Rubinstein took it as a sign that the worst was over. Sure enough, he was on the threshold of a brilliant international career. He spent many years in Paris, then moved to Los Angeles in 1939, taking US citizenship in 1946. Rubinstein largely confined his concert activity to the USA and Europe, but did not return to post-Holocaust Germany; his sight failing from 1975, he gave his last recital in London on 10 June 1976. Rubinstein himself described Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Brahms and Liszt as his central repertoire and shunned contemporary music all his life. The 1940s was the decade in which he most amazed audiences and critics with his immense vigor, virtuosity and daring technique. In retrospect it is his glowing tone and the compelling emotionality of his style which have ensured Rubinstein’s place in the 20th-century musical pantheon.
 

  Artur Rubinstein plays Chopin
11CD set
Rubinstein

RCA Victor - #60822 / 1991
 

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  arrau 

ArrauCLAUDIO ARRAU
6 February 1903, Chillán (Chile)
9 June 1991, Murzzuschlag (Austria)

Few pianists have had such a lasting influence on music as Claudio Arrau. In 80 years he gave over 5,000 concerts, often more than 100 a season. Even before he could read words, he could read music. He debuted at five; from 1911, the Chilean Government financed ten years of studies in Berlin, which indelibly moulded his personality. Prussian discipline was unequalled, and his motto was always "be more than you seem." His role model was Liszt-pupil Martin Krause, who taught Arrau from 1913, replaced the father he had lost at an early age, and made sure the inquiring boy had an all-round education. When Krause died in 1918, Arrau decided to do without a teacher. After years of crisis, psychoanalysis helped him clear the hurdle from wunderkind to mature artist. He undertook extended world tours; Bach's keyboard works, covering twelve evenings in Berlin in 1935, were followed by Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven cycles. His vast repertoire is reflected in his recordings (the Philips Arrau Edition alone runs to 44 CDs). Arrau entered a musical world still inspired by the 19th century, and learnt the Romantic repertoire at first hand from musicians like Krause and Nikisch. But a new, anti-Romantic age was beginning, epitomized in Berlin by Busoni. Growing up at this crossroads, Arrau assimilated the old and the new. He regretted playing so little modern music - impresarios kept it off the concert program, and he was not the sort to argue. Arrau had to get things absolutely right. After Krause's death he spent years in front of the mirror, streamlining the way he moved at the piano. He took the same trouble over the notes, and compiled a completely new edition of Beethoven's sonatas. As for his readings, Arrau announced in 1948 that it was pointless to play a work until you were sure of the meaning of every single bar. And so his perfectionism was the only thing later critics could hold against him.
 

Arrau 1
Emi Classics - #61016 / 1988
[GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE DE CHOPIN 1990]
Arrau 2
Philips - #38338 / 1993
 
Arrau 3
Philips - #456336 / 1997
 

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  horowitz 

HorowitzVLADIMIR HOROWITZ
1 October 1903, Kiev (Russia)
5 November 1989, New York
(USA)

For many the epitome of the 20th-century virtuoso, Horowitz burst on the scene in 1926 in Berlin as “the tornado from the steppes' and never looked back. Married to Wanda Toscanini, Horowitz had an on-again, off-again career driven by his temperament and his explosive pianism which a whole generation of pianists have tried, unsuccessfully, to mimic. There has been and never will be another Horowitz! Many regard the Ukrainian-born American pianist as the greatest piano genius of the 20th century. Horowitz’s musical education began at the age of five in a music-loving home. Gifted but undisciplined, he gradually developed his very own keyboard method, driving his teachers to desperation (and maybe providing early evidence of the tendency to arrogance and egoism for which he was so much criticized later.) Felix Blumenfeld, who had studied with Horowitz’s idol Anton Rubinstein, was the sole exception: "Blumenfeld was exactly the teacher I needed because he was creative." 1920 saw "Volodya" graduate from the conservatory and, at the concerts that followed, his fame as a pianist of outstanding technical ability and stylistic command spread like wildfire. Leaving the Soviet Union in 1925, he made his international breakthrough in 1926 with concerts in Berlin and Hamburg. Wherever he appeared after that, audiences were almost universally enthralled. True, the critics damned him with faint praise after his first performances in New York in 1928 ("a virtuoso, but musically underdeveloped"), but he had won the hearts of the audience at once. This difference of opinion between the press and the public was to stay with him over the years. Concerts with Arturo Toscanini soon led to marriage with the conductor’s daughter, Wanda. During his long career, Vladimir Horowitz surmounted numerous personal and artistic crises generally due to overwork or nerves, as in 1936-8 and  before his triumphal come-back on 9 May 1965 in New York’s Carnegie Hall  between 1953 and 1965. After that, the press came over to his side, too: "Old Horowitz or new, this was the order of artistry for which pianos are made to be played." But there were more crises to follow before the ageing Horowitz surpassed all previous triumphs with a series of spectacular concerts, of which the Moscow concert of 20 April 1986  after 61 years away  may have been the most moving of all. Posterity remembers Vladimir Horowitz as a "keyboard magician" whose inimitable touch was best experienced in technically demanding solo works by Russian composers. His gramophone recordings earned no less than 27 Grammys.
 

Horowitz 1
Bmg/Rca Victor - #7752 / 1990
Horowitz 2
Bmg/Rca Victor - #60376 / 1991
Horowitz 3
Bmg/Rca Victor - #60987 / 1993

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  cherkassky 

CherkasskySHURA CHERKASSKY
7 October 1911, Odessa (Ukraine)
29 December 1995, London (UK)

Shura Cherkassky was considered the last great post-Romantic pianist (surviving Horowitz, Bolet and Horszowski), with a virtuosic, highly subjective style that never failed to stimulate. Shura was tapping out lullabies on the piano at the tender age of two; he gave his first public concert when he was nine. The Cherkasskys fled theaftermath of the October Revolution for the USA (when the boy justifiably feared his piano would be burnt for lack of fuel) and the young pianist spent eleven years studying at the famous Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where his mentor was Josef Hofmann: “I believed in him like a god.” At sixteen Cherkassky commenced his extended tours, hailed by public and critics alike, which took him all over the world. At twenty-five he was universally regarded as a star pianist, but in 1940s’ America his star began to wane; his interpretations were seen as “old hat,” as pianists like Artur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz won the hearts of American audiences. Meanwhile, Cherkassky’s 1946 European tour established his lasting fame in the Old World, and a New York concert success in 1976 restored him to favour in the States.The pinnacle of his vast repertoire, ranging from Bach to the moderns, was set by his readings of the 19th-century composers — specially Liszt, Chopin and Russian greats like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. His Chopin interpretations were “magical.” His freedom at the keyboard contrasted with his strict life-style: he practised for just four hours a day, and was never nervous before a concert unless he was afraid the limousine would not get him to the hall on time or the dressing-room not be furnished exactly to his requirements.Cherkassky regarded playing the piano as the seemingly outmoded art of making technically perfect music in a heart-warming manner, as a kind of celebration. Purists and “anti-Romantics” might find fault with his highly personal style, he knew: “Some people like my playing, and some people perhaps don’t like my playing, but I don’t think anybody can call me boring.”
 

Chopin: Sonatas No.2 & 3, Fantasy Op.49
Cherkassky 1

Decca - ERM # 185-2 / 1993
Chopin: Ballades No.3 & 4, Scherzos No.2 & 4
Waltzes Op.18 & 64-2, Etude Op.10-3
Cherkassky 2
BBC Legends / 2001

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  magaloff 

MagaloffNIKITA MAGALOFF
8 February 1912, St Petersburg (Russia)
26 December 1992, Vevey (Switzerland)

Nikita Magaloff, Swiss pianist of Russian birth, was long admired as one of the leading Chopin interpreters of the 20th century. The son-in-law of the great Hungarian violinist Josef Szigeti, Magaloff made his reputation in the music of Chopin, performing the complete works of the Polish composer in a series of recitals in many musical centres around the world. A noted teacher, he provided valuable professional advice to a whole generation of French musicians from his base in Switzerland. He fled the Russian Revolution with his parents, first to Finland, then to Paris. His teachers and friends included Isidore Philipp, Sergey Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel and Liszt-pupil Alexander Ziloti. "The first piano notes I heard as a child were played by Sergei Prokofiev. He was a close friend of our family and very often visited us. Ravel was very kind to me but told me he was not a piano teacher and could do no more than introduce me to his music. Ravel thought a young person should play modern music first and classical music later." A quite different view was taken by Isidore Philipp, who had studied with a pupil of Chopin and laid the foundations for Magaloff’s love of this music. Magaloff performed Chopin’s entire piano œuvre in the course of several concert tours of Europe, presenting his highly individual view of Chopin’s music. "I soon left behind Philipp’s conception of Chopin and arrived at a stricter one of my own. I believe Paderewski himself falsified Chopin. So many dilettantes were playing Chopin at the time. Wherever you found a piano you heard his waltzes, nocturnes and polonaises, and people liked them really sentimental. These days far less Chopin is played at home, but in concerts he is played better and certainly far more correctly.  This music is incredibly musicianly and full of feeling, but it is not sentimental." Another composer he admired was Mozart: "I think of him as the greatest composer, and so I like playing him best, even though he is the most difficult." 1949 was the year in which he took over his friend and colleague Dinu Lipatti’s master class at the Geneva Conservatory after Lipatti’s early death, giving up teaching in 1960 to concentrate on concerts. He was a frequent guest artist at the great music festivals in Salzburg, Edinburgh and Lausanne. Magaloff played much chamber music with Clara Haskil and Joseph Szigeti, avoided modern music "I have no feel for really new music, or for twelve-note music. I admit I simply don’t understand it." and was famous for the emotional, romantic warmth of his playing.
 

Complete piano music (13CDs)
Magaloff

Uni/Philips - CD 456 376-2 / 1978

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  bolet 

BoletJORGE BOLET
15 November 1914, Havana (Cuba)
16 October 1990, San Mateo (USA)

American pianist of Cuban birth, Jorge Bolet was born in Havana on 15 November 1914. First attracted to the piano at the age of nine, he made remarkable progress studying with local teachers. When he was 12 he became a scholarship student at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, studying the piano with David Saperton and conducting with Fritz Reiner: his other teachers included Leopold Godowsky (1932) and Moriz Rosenthal (1935). Bolet's European debut was in Amsterdam (1935), and his American debut in Philadelphia (1937), followed by further studies with Rudolf Serkin. In 1937 he won the Naumberg Prize and in 1938 the Josef Hofmann Award. From 1939 to 1942 he taught as Serkin's assistant at the Curtis Institute. Military service took him to Japan, and in 1946 he conducted the Japanese premiere of The Mikado. After the war he resumed his career and spent some time working with Abram Chasins. From the early 60's his artistry and virtuosity have been acclaimed as transcendent, and he is generally considered in the USA (he has less played in Europe) to be one of the last representatives of the grand tradition of Romantic piano playing. Throughout the century no pianist ever claimed to have a greater technique than that of Jorge Bolet. A career that was late to flower, the last 20 years saw Bolet crowned as one of the greats. Bolet was a pianist in the romantic tradition of Hofmann and Godowsky, fond of moulding the most beautifully lyrical melodies into exquisite things of beauty. He also had wrists of steel, as the Staccato Etude of Anton Rubinstein shows perfectly. Even though famous for his reading of Liszt, Bolet produced among the most sentimental sound of Chopin's music ever.
 

Chopin: 24 Preludes, Ballades No.2 & 4
Bolet 1
Decca / 1996
Chopin: 2 Concertos with Dutoit
Bolet 2
Decca / 1990

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  richter 

RichterSVIATOSLAV RICHTER
20 March 1915, Zhitomir (Russia)
1 August 1997, Moscow (Russia)

When Richter was created they must have thrown away the mould. A big man with huge, powerful shoulders and enormous arms and hands, Richter was one of the most respected pianists of the century. Richter’s repertoire was legendary and went from Bach to Bartok, from Schumann to Shostakovich, and from Handel to Hindemith, not to speak of all the composers in between. His Carnegie Hall debut in 1960 caused a sensation! Ukrainian pianist Sviatoslav Richter was soon dubbed "notoriously unreliable"   cancelling concerts almost every year (often at the last moment) or changing his whole program. But there were always inner constraints or health reasons, and ultimately it has not harmed his reputation as one of the world’s finest pianists. As a boy, Richter had only sporadic piano lessons, yet a natural, insatiable curiosity about everything to do with music helped him on his way until he began as a repetiteur at the Odessa Opera when he was eighteen. This period endowed him with a knowledge of opera unusual in a pianist and taught him how to make the piano "sing." The same year he began rehearsing the piano literature in earnest, giving his first public recital   still self-taught  the following year. At twenty-two he entered the Moscow Conservatory as a pupil of Heinrich Neuhaus, and under the latter's intelligent direction he matured into a professional, without losing his originality. His phenomenal sight-reading, which, like his remarkable memory and fascinating musical instinct, marked out this "born" pianist, thrilled Neuhaus: "The rhythm in Richter’s performances makes one feel that the whole work, even if it is of gigantic proportions, lies before him like an immense landscape, revealed to the eye at a single glance and in all its details." Though really too old to start a concert career, Richter   first in Eastern Europe, then from 1960 in the West and Japan  was a global sensation. Take his first concert in Finland: "After the first sonata, there was enormous applause; after the next one they started tapping their feet, which, in Helsinki, is their expression of the utmost admiration, and after the ‘Appassionata’ one feared that the floor might give way." The 1960s showed Richter at the height of his powers, but the punishing concert schedule he imposed upon himself undermined his health. Audience and press were constantly enthralled anew by Richter’s playing, offered "in affectionate service to the composer as a first and last aim," as a reviewer once wrote, and as late as 1989 the London press said of the seventy-four-year-old that he had the most perfect technique ever applied to the keyboard. Though Richter said he hated making recordings, over 50 are currently available, many of them milestones of pianistic history. His Chopin set is indispensable for listeners.
 

Sviatoslav Richter Archives, Vol.3
Chopin Recitals 1954-1990
Richter 1
Doremi (Can) - #7738 / 1999
Sviatoslav Richter Vol 8
Chopin: 4 Scherzi
Richter 2
Olympia (UK) - #338 / 1993

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  lipatti 

LipattiDINU LIPATTI
19 March 1917, Bucharest (Romania)
2 December 1950, Geneva (Switzerland)

Dinu Lipatti was judged by his contemporaries to be "the manifestation of the spiritual world, immune from all pain and sorrow" (Yehudi Menuhin) and an "artist of divine spirituality" (Francis Poulenc). Lipatti came from a cultivated musical family. His father had studied the violin with Sarasate, his mother was an excellent pianist, and the Romanian composer George Enescu was his godfather. He had his first music lessons with Mihail Jora when he was eight. Though he was really too young for the Royal Music Academy in Bucharest, Florica Musicescu took him under her wing there from 1928. While still studying (and just afterwards) Lipatti performed the concertos of Grieg, Chopin and Liszt, making people sit up and take notice of his talent. His second prize in the 1933 Vienna International Piano Competition outraged Alfred Cortot, who, having nominated him for first prize, resigned from the jury in protest. Between 1934 and 1939 Lipatti lived in Paris and studied piano with Cortot and composition with Paul Dukas and later with Nadia Boulanger at the École Normale de Musique. He began giving regular concerts, touring extensively at home and abroad from the late 1930s, but was obliged to cut back his concert schedule drastically when he contracted leukaemia. Lipatti met his duet partner and later wife, Madeleine Cantacuzino, in 1940 and settled with her in Switzerland. A temporary improvement in his health allowed a return to the concert platform, and in London in 1948 he delivered a legendary interpretation of the Schumann Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan. There was another long break, and then in 1950 he gave three last concerts: in Geneva under Ernest Ansermet, in Lucerne under Karajan again, and finally his last recital in Besancon on 16 September, which he concluded with Myra Hess’s arrangement of Bach’s "Jesu, joy of man’s desiring." Lipatti’s playing   like his bearing  was aristocratic, sensitive, thoughtful and always controlled. His search for perfection was matched by his enthusiasm for modern recording techniques. Lipatti’s openness towards the gramophone record has given us lasting access to a number of priceless performances from his all-too-brief career.
 

Waltzes
Lipatti
Emi Classics - #66956 / 1999
[GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE DE CHOPIN 1990]

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  michelangeli 

MichelangeliARTURO BENEDETTI MICHELANGELI
5 January 1920, Brescia (Italy)
12 June 1995, Lugano (Switzerland)

The Italian pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli was nothing if not controversial. Critics remain as divided on the personality of the artist, a legend in his own lifetime, as on his interpretation and style. His frequent cancellations, utter disregard of audience and press, and his extreme personal sensitivity have fed the legend while explaining the often highly negative attitude of the press. His audiences, concerned by repeated rumours of his deteriorating health, celebrated his rare appearances with endless ovations, creating the "Michelangeli myth." His striving after perfect musicianship — exclusively on an instrument meeting his highest standards — outdid even the lordliness of a Glenn Gould. The imperfect documentation of Michelangeli’s life is due to his almost impenetrable silence on private matters. He graduated from the Milan Conservatory at thirteen, after which he largely taught himself. Entering the first Geneva International Piano Competition in 1939, he was unanimously declared the winner by a star-studded jury including Cortot and Paderewski, and hailed by critics as "the new Liszt." Michelangeli devoted himself to teaching for many years. He aimed to make his pupils think: "Today’s young musicians […] do everything in order not to think." At the slightest disturbance, Michelangeli would leave the platform or not even start to play (as in 1973, when his piano had been stored in England in over-humid conditions and he said he could not find a single acceptable instrument anywhere in London). His active concert repertoire was never very extensive, though it did range from Bach and Scarlatti to Schoenberg; later he described modern composers as "noise-makers" and dismissed their music as "experiments" and "abortions." From the 1970s he concentrated on Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, Schumann and Beethoven. His Chopin is pure and ethereal. Michelangeli’s playing had great clarity, impeccable technique and inimitable modulation of timbre, which he attributed to his early violin and organ lessons: One must not think of piano sound "but of a combination of the violin and the organ."
 


Chopin: Sonata Nos.2 & 3

Michelangeli 1
Praga (Fra) - #250042 / 1993
10 Mazurkas / Ballade Op.23
Scherzo Op. 31
Michelangeli 2

DG - #4534402 / 1984

A Chopin recital in Italy

Michelangeli 3
Aura Classics (Ita) - #135 / 1999

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  cziffra 

CziffraGEORGES CZIFFRA
5 November 1921, Budapest (Hungary)
17 January 1994, Senlis (France)

Individualism and idiosyncrasy mark the life and work of the Hungarian pianist Gyorgy Cziffra. The musical wunderkind entered the famous Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest at the age of nine to study with Erno Dohnanyi. At sixteen he made his first successful tours of Europe, till the Second World War kept him in Hungary, where he used the time to study and widen his repertoire. Conscripted in 1941, he was made a prisoner of war. In 1947 he resumed his education with Gy? Ferenczi, making a living as a jazz pianist in bars and night-clubs. His political convictions earned him three years in a labour camp. His release freed him for a concert career, and in 1955 he won the famous Liszt Prize. The following year he escaped Hungarian repression with his wife and son and settled in France (changing his first name to Georges). A few weeks later his piano playing hit Vienna and Paris "like a musical bomb." A tour of the USA and his London debut followed. In his new homeland, Cziffra the concert pianist supported numerous cultural projects, setting up the Cziffra Foundation in 1975 to help young artists. France acknowledged his commitment with several medals and by naming a new piano competition after him (1968). He rarely performed following the tragic death of his son in an accident (1981). Strangely, Bart󫠡nd Dohn᮹i were not in Cziffra’s repertoire; it was another fellow-countryman, Liszt, whose virtuoso bravura pieces let him dazzle his public (his "big numbers" were always the Hungarian Fantasy and the First Piano Concerto). Chopin and Schumann were other favourites. If Cziffra played Baroque music, then he chose harpsichord pieces by Couperin, Lully and Rameau, not Bach or Scarlatti. His playing was distinguished by pure tone, timbre, articulation and dynamic shading. Concerts depended on his moods, though, and might not be models of interpretation — though his technical mastery was secure. His unpredictability made every concert a cliff-hanger, and this still comes through in his many recordings. A reviewer wrote: "Call him eccentric, call him headstrong, call him whatever, his playing is not to be forgotten once heard." While his Chopin etudes
are "tour de force" piano demonstration, his Chopin barcarolle is "singing from piano."
 

Chopin: Œuvres pour piano (5CDs)
Cziffra

EMI - # 7243 5 85012 2 3 / 2004

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  francois 

FrancoisSAMSON FRANCOIS
18 May 1924, Frankfurt (Germany)
22 October 1970, Paris (France)

French pianist Samson Francois enjoyed a special, innovative role in the history of piano music in the second half of the 20th century. Francois was the son of a French consul and led a cosmopolitan life even as a child. He was discovered by the master of Italian verismo, Pietro Mascagni, won his pianistic spurs at the Belgrade Conservatory and met up in Nice with Alfred Cortot, who eventually sent him to the famous Paris piano teacher Marguerite Long. His success in the first Concours international de piano et violon Marguerite Long — Jacques Thibaud in 1943 smoothed the nineteen-year-old’s way to a great career — partly as a pianist, partly as a composer. International stars of the rostrum such as Leonard Bernstein, Charles Munch, Dmitri Mitropoulos or Andre Cluytens soon noticed the new French piano genius, and Francois was one of the very first Western artists to appear in China. Maybe it was his heightened interest in composing that turned Francois against the tradition of the Romantic and late-Romantic piano school exemplified by Horowitz, Rubinstein or Godowsky. He was keen to present Classical-Romantic music in the expressive language of the latter half of the 20th century. And although he soon made a name for himself as a brilliant Chopin and Liszt interpreter, critics were equally quick to find fault with his modernist readings of familiar works. His interpretations of the great Classical and Romantic composers from Mozart and Beethoven to Brahms were in the spirit of the early 1950s — radical, unconventional and sometimes disturbingly different. Francois had more of a fundamental affinity to composers of the late 19th and early 20th century — Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Sergey Prokofiev. They not only made the most of his extraordinary technical virtuosity; they served as a primer of modern form and expression. He premiered his own piano concerto in 1951; the critics, while respecting Francois’s interpretative achievement, found his work too close to that of Prokofiev. Audiences always loved Francois. Indeed, his personal and artistic versatility may still be witnessed in a film portrait shot by Claude Santelli three years before Francois’s early death. A pupil of the great Alfred Cortot, Samson Francois took from his master the special spontaneity in his playing which distinguished him from other French pianists of his day. The elegance of his playing, coupled with great technical fluency and a fiery temperament, made him a great interpreter of the music of Chopin. Together with Cortot, Francois recorded one of the best Chopin's piano concerto Op.21.
 

Chopin: Piano Works (10CDs)
Francois 1

EMI - 2001
Chopin: Piano Concertos 
Francois 2

EMI - 2000

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  moravec 

MoravecIVAN MORAVEC
9 November 1930, Prague (Czech)

"If he [the artist] dares to play really personally, he gets beaten down by the critics and loses his courage," observed Ivan Moravec in 1986. Like other pianists with a distinctly individual style, he is sometimes criticized for it; but his place on the pianist’s Parnassus is secure. Moravec’s artistic sense clashed with George Szell’s views right at his New York debut in 1964, when the pianist insisted on his own, "Romantic" interpretation of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto to the great annoyance of Szell, who was not used to being contradicted. Moravec’s reputation did not suffer from this encounter, however, and today the successful teacher urges his students not to lose faith in their personal style, or they will degenerate into mere copies. A Michelangeli pupil, he allows plenty of time to prepare for a new work: "When I start to practise a piece, my first consideration is to find the most intelligent possible reading, but I am usually frustrated because there is a gap between the image of the music in my mind and what actually comes out of the piano. However, I am patient." His repertoire, while not immense, ranges from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Franck, Ravel and Debussy to Dvorak, Smetana, Suk and Janacek. Though never a prodigy, Moravec loved the sound of opera voices as a small child: "Perhaps in the piano playing I was looking for a similar quality." Reviews tell the same story: "No matter what the work, Moravec found the singing lines in it." The eighteen-year-old was on the threshold of a great career when an injury put him out of action for six years. He could be philosophical in retrospect: "When I was able to play again, I built things with more efficiency, with muscles like a bull, my style would have been absolutely different." That may explain the frequent mention of "intense peace" and a "feel for dramatic pauses" in his reviews. His recordings, long since collectors’ items and now increasingly available on CD, have been almost exclusively praised and honoured with awards, above all his Chopin, "because of the beauty, depth, hypnotic concentration, and intensity of personal expression."
 

24 Preludes Op.28, Barcarolle
Berceuse, Scherzo op.20
Moravec 1
Vai Audio - #1039 / 1994

Four Ballades, Mazurkas
Moravec 2

Vai Audio - #1092 / 1996

19 Nocturnes
Moravec 3

Wea/Atlantic - #79233 / 1991

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  harasiewicz 

HarasiewiczADAM HARASIEWICZ
1 August 1932, Chodziez (Poland)

The pianist, legendary in his native country of Poland and across Europe, won the prestigious and lofty First Prize in the 1955 International Chopin Competition, beating both Vladimir Askenazy and Fou Ts'ong - highly regarded pianists themselves. From his victory to the present, Harasiewicz has dedicated his professional career to playing the music of Chopin, even playing before the UN in 1960 to inaugurate the Year of Chopin (the 150th anniversary of the composer's birthday). When first listening to a set of pieces such as the Preludes, or Nocturnes, or even Polonaises, a listener is usually subjected to even tempi, mild individuality, and moderate technique: in short, average performances. Standard renditions of this repertoire deluge the classical market every year, by performers both celebrated and recondite. Harasiewicz far departs from the "usual" recordings, bringing to the music a vision unparalleled in originality, virtuosity, imagination, and erudition. Harasiewicz's playing is difficult to describe: he achieves an effective synthesis of every style I have heard so far. He has the balance of Arrau - both left and right hands are always discernable, every note, every harmony is well displayed. He has the intelligent sensibilities of Askenazy - every note sounds like hours of thought went into it. Musical notions are mature, and well-developed. But he is sonically dangerous like Kissin - his bass ROARS, his treble sparkles, and the whole range in between is well-defined. He is dramatic like Horowitz - he shows a wide field of emotions, from full rage to lugubrious tragedy, from buoyant happiness and unutterable joy, to oppressive melancholy and delicate passion - he displays all and many more. He is the most complete pianist in this sense, for many pianists fall into the trap of applying Chopin's music to their own vision - Argerich is lustful and wildly frantic in each piece, even Nocturnes; but humanity, as Harasiewicz demonstrates, is more than one emotion- it is an entire wealth of them, and he applies his own peerless and flawless technique to the pieces, not the other way around. His piano tone itself is gorgeous - and versatile. He can play softly, with a warm and swirling sound. He can play sharply, with a piercing sound. He can play with bell-like tones that glimmer and glisten like raindrops. Every sound conceivable is possible in his artistic palette!
 

3 sonatas, 4 ballades, 4 scherzos,
barcarolle, fantasy

Harasiewicz 1
Uni/Philips - #464025 / 2000
Complete polonaises
16 waltzes
Harasiewicz 2
Uni/Philips - #462874 / 1999
21 Nocturnes
26 Preludes
Harasiewicz 3
Uni/Philips - #42266 / 1994

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  cliburn 

CliburnVAN CLIBURN
12 July 1934, Shreveport (USA)

The most famous competition-winner of the century, Cliburn’s special brand of open-hearted romanticism and honest yet consummate virtuosity struck a resonant chord at a time when many pianists had become more interested in their mechanism than their musicianship. Two major events, both with a political dimension, shaped the career of the Texan pianist. In 1958, he won Moscow’s first International Tchaikovsky Competition  a sensational event during the Cold War  and gave a major boost to his world career, most likely held back by family problems. Van Cliburn  whose mother had been his only piano teacher from the age of five till he entered New York’s Juilliard School at seventeen to spend three years studying with Rosina Lhevinne  had already given numerous concerts, notably with the New York Philharmonic and the Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver and Pittsburgh orchestras, and won several competitions. Now he dazzled the world "with a display of technical skill that Russians have long considered their special forte," as the New York Times put it. "More Russian than the Russians," said one adjudicator. After his Moscow triumph the acclaimed young pianist faced a new challenge from the vast concert schedule he now had to perform: he lacked the time to develop his style and his repertoire at leisure. By the early 1970s, critics were already noting a certain weariness and first signs of decline in his interpretations. Sure enough, Cliburn was concentrating on the Romantic piano literature and neglecting Baroque music and 20th-century works, and in 1978 he retired from concert life for about ten years. Finally, in December 1987, a private concert for Mikhail Gorbachov and Ronald Reagan in the White House brought Van Cliburn back into circulation. This was an event the international music community had been looking forward to, and he soon had audiences in the East and West eating out of his hand again. Cliburn’s recordings are surprisingly numerous given his long break; outstanding among them is one of his "hits," Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto under Kyrill Kondrashin. One newspaper wrote: "Others have played the famous Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto louder and faster, but none have played it with more authority, care and affection than Van Cliburn." That record had sold over a million copies by the end of 1961 classical music’s first million-seller.
 

Sonatas No.2 & 3
Cliburn 1
Bmg/Rca Victor - #60417 / 1992
Van Cliburn: My Favorite Chopin
Cliburn 2
Bmg/Rca Victor - #68813 / 1997

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  ashkenazy 

AshkenazyVLADIMIR ASHKENAZY
6 July 1937 Gorkiy (now Nizhniy Novgorodm, Russia)

Vladimir Ashkenazy is active and acclaimed around the world both as pianist and conductor. At first his piano repertoire was thoroughly traditional until he added French and, especially, Russian composers; but he still avoids Liszt and contemporary music. Whatever he plays, he plays well: it is hard to find another pianist or conductor who has so effectively mastered the challenges of two composers as different as Beethoven and Rachmaninov. Ashkenazy's father was a pianist himself, but he played exclusively light music. The Ashkenazys moved to Moscow in 1940, only to be evacuated after the German invasion a year later. Returning to Moscow in 1943, the family had to share an apartment with others for thirteen years. Soviet housing may have been poor, but musical education was brilliant: talent was quickly spotted and encouraged, provided there were no political obstacles in the way. At eight Ashkenazy was taking lessons from Anaida Sumbatyan at the Central School of Music; he won second prize at the Warsaw Chopin Competition in 1955, the year he entered Lev Oborin's piano class at the Moscow Conservatory. 1956 saw Ashkenazy travelling to the West for the first time, to compete in the Reine Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. He won first prize, and his family was rewarded with an apartment of their own. Ashkenazy married the Icelandic pianist Thorunn Johannsdottir in 1961. Years of wearisome struggle for visas and residence permits brought emigration, first to England in 1963, then to Iceland in 1968; in 1978, Ashkenazy settled in Lucerne with his wife and child. Ashkenazy's conducting skills emerged during his Icelandic years. He has worked with such famous ensembles as the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestras, and Berlin's Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester. He is a sought-after chamber musician, too, and has made a complete recording of Rachmaninov's complex but rewarding piano songs with soprano Elisabeth Soderstrom. Unlike some other "Russian" pianists, Ashkenazy is hailed for his gentleness, not for the noise he makes: "His playing is lyrical at heart, not heroic. He has a sensitive way of using his vast technique," wrote one critic. After a Beethoven and Schumann recital, another said: "Vladimir Ashkenazy does not interpret music; he exudes it - breathes it."
 

Piano works (13CDs)
Ashkenazy
Uni/Philips - #443738 / 1997

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  argerich 

ArgerichMARTHA ARGERICH
5 June 1941, Buenos Aires (Argentina)

If an artist can ever be described as a "genius," Martha Argerich would probably be first in line for this title. Her piano playing was a true gift; most likely she never practised systematically. She had her first lessons at three, debuted with a Buenos Aires orchestra in 1949, and, to make sure she could study with the best teachers, President Juan PerÛn appointed her diplomat parents to Vienna in 1955. Argerich took lessons with Friedrich Gulda for eighteen months, valuing them highly. 1957 saw her win the Busoni competition in Bolzano and the Concours International d'Execution Musicale in Geneva. She seemed on the brink of a brilliant career. But it was not that easy. From the start, Argerich laboured under her superlative talent and hated playing in public. Self-destructive urges would suggest that she wished she had been just an ordinary girl. Then there was the need she felt for independence from her parents, who were constantly preaching discipline. Even before she came of age, Argerich toured alone. She had good private reasons to reject the example of Myra Hess, held up to her by her parents and early teachers; unable to see the piano as her "betrothed," she married several times, giving her three daughters three different fathers. Fickleness continued to characterize Argerich's musical career. At twenty, she gave up concerts for several years, failing to grasp a "lifeline" thrown to her by Michelangeli. 1964 unexpectedly found her appearing in a Brussels competition  entered by her mother. She could hardly have been a regular candidate, but jury member Stefan Askenase and his wife finally persuaded Argerich to return to the instrument. She won the Warsaw Chopin Competition the following year. This made her, but she remained unpredictable; she is celebrated for withdrawing at the last minute. Martha Argerich's piano playing is subject to wild fluctuations, not just from day to day but sometimes from bar to bar. A wonderfully inspired passage may be followed by mechanical monotony. She can be so wrapped up in her playing that she gets faster and faster, making for problems with fellow-musicians. Even at breakneck speed, however, she stays in full control  while still capable of playing incredibly softly.
 

Piano concertos No.1 & 2
Argerich 1
Emi Classics - #56798 / 1999
26 preludes, 3 mazurkas op.59
Argerich 2
Deutsche Grammophon - #31584 / 1991

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  biret 

BiretIDIL BIRET
21 November 1941, Paris (France)

Idil Biret's gift for music was apparent from the age of three. She was trained at the Paris Conservatoire under the tutelage of Nadia Boulanger, graduating at the age of fifteen with three first prizes. She then continued her studies with Alfred Cortot and was a lifelong disciple of Wilhelm Kempff, who considered her his finest student. Since the age of sixteen, Biret has been giving concerts throughout the world with major orchestras, such as the London Symphony, the Philharmonia, Leningrad Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Dresden Staatskapelle, French National Orchestra, Polish Radio Symphony, Suisse Romande, Tokyo Philharmonic, and Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Among the eminent conductors she collaborated with are Pierre Monteux, Joseph Keilberth, Hermann Scherchen, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Eric Leinsdorf, Rudolf Kempe, Adrian Boult, Malcolm Sargent, Charles Mackerras, Moshe Atzmon, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Andrew Davis and Aaron Copland. Biret has participated at festivals in Montreal, Berlin, Paris, Nohant, Athens, Persepolis, Dubrovnik, Royan, Montpellier and Istanbul. She has performed Beethoven's violin sonatas with Yehudi Menuhin and the Mozart's concerto for two pianos with Wilhelm Kempff. She has been a member in the juries of many competitoins including the Van Cliburn (USA), Queen Elisabeth (Belgium), Montreal (Canada), Busoni (Italy), Liszt (Weimar, Germany). She has received the following awards: Lily Boulanger Memorial, Boston; Harriet Cohen - Dinu Lipatti gold medal, London; Adelaide Ristori prize, Italy; Artistic Merit, Poland; Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite, France; State Artist, Turkey. Over the years Biret has made more than seventy records including the world premiere recording of Liszt's piano transcriptions of all nine Beethoven Symphonies. For Naxos, she recorded the complete solo piano works and all the concertos of Chopin, Brahms, Rachmaninov and the three piano sonatas of Pierre Boulez. In 1995 her recording of the complete works of Chopin was awarded a "Grand Prix du Disque de Chopin" in Poland. The same year, her recording of the Boulez sonatas won the annual Golden Diapason award and was selected among the best recordings of the year by Le Monde in France. Biret has over one hundred concertos and all the major solo piano works in her repertory.
 

Complete piano music (15CDs)
Biret
Naxos - #8501501 / 1999
[GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE DE CHOPIN 1995]

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  pollini 

PolliniMAURIZIO POLLINI
5 January 1942, Milan (Italy)

Winning the first prize of the International Chopin Competition in 1960 at the age of 18, Pollini has remained one of the greatest and most intimidating exponents of Chopin’s music. His Etudes, for example, send most pianists back to the practice room. Like Ivan Moravec and Martha Argerich, Pollini studied with Michelangeli, sharing the latter’s absolute perfection of utterance, a quality that send chills, or thrills, through the world’s concert halls.
One critic described Maurizio Pollini as "the greatest pianist, and the greatest Chopin player to have emerged from Italy since the Second World War"   an apt enough characterization, but capturing only one facet of this complex artist. Pollini grew up in a music-loving family and had his first piano lessons at the age of five. He was soon able to learn a ten-page piano work by heart in a quarter of an hour. Pollini graduated from the Milan Conservatory in 1959 and took lessons with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli in 1961. A year earlier, in 1960, he had won the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. The adjudicators included Artur Rubinstein, who declared: "Technically he already plays better than any of us on the jury." Despite this success, Pollini felt the need to mature artistically, staying off the concert platform for seven years. 1968 marked the start of his international career, which made him one of the most sought-after pianists of modern times. Shy and retiring by nature, this resident of Milan now gives only some thirty to fifty concerts a year. He relaxes with cards and chess and is a passionate swimmer. Pollini has always been a political activist, too, joining with Claudio Abbado to organize concerts for factory workers and spearheading Italian protests against the Vietnam war and South American dictatorships. Once he even tried to read out an anti-American manifesto during a concert  and was promptly shouted down. Maurizio Pollini has a particular affinity to 20th-century music  from the Second Viennese School via Bartok, Stravinsky and Prokofiev to the composers of the present day. He played Arnold Schoenberg’s complete solo piano works at a 1974 concert in London to celebrate the centenary of the composer’s birth, and received the 1979 Grand Prix International du Disque for his recording of Anton Webern’s Piano Variations and Second Piano Sonata by Pierre Boulez. The Classical-Romantic repertoire of the 19th century remains one of his special strengths  particularly Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert and Schumann. Critics credit him with consummate sensitivity, maturity and expressiveness, even if his "objective," analytical readings are sometimes perceived as lacking in spontaneity. There is no question of Pollini’s stupendous technique or his impressively individual mastery of tone and form.
 

Sonata No.2
Sonata No.3
Pollini 1
DG - #15346 / 1987
7 Polonaises
24 Etudes, 24 Preludes
Pollini 2

DG - #31221 / 1991
4 scherzos
barcarolle, berceuse
Pollini 3
DG - #31623 / 1992
4 ballades, fantasy
prelude op.45
Pollini 4

DG - #459683 / 1999

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  pires 

PiresMARIA JOAO PIRES
23 July 1944, Lisbon (Portugal)

Always a distinctive voice in music since her beginnings in the 1970s, Pires has assumed today a prominent role as an interpreter of the music of Chopin, Schubert and Mozart. Her cristalline touch, rhythmic vitality and clear articulation only serve to enhance an innate musicianship. She lives in a country retreat in her native Portugal, far from the bustle of the major musical centres, bringing the resulting repose to her rare concert appearances. Portuguese pianist Maria Joao Pires is a poet among today’s piano virtuosos. Though she won the 1970 competition held by international broadcasting stations to mark Ludwig van Beethoven’s 200th anniversary, she soon became known as a consummate Mozart pianist. The classic child prodigy, she later learnt a lot from Karl Engel in Hanover. Equally at home with the Romantics, she follows through as far as Bela Bartok. She says of contemporary music: "The aspect of modern music that puts me off it is hard to describe. It's missing something, unbalanced, lacking balance between the human soul on the one hand and the endless, the universe on the other hand.  That's why I don’t really relate to modern music, although there are certainly some good pieces." Maria Joao Pires rejects stardom, even finding applause after concerts rather embarrassing. "Music isn’t just the creation of a human being. There’s something else there. A composer has powers within him which we cannot explain. But he too has them from somewhere  from the whole world, from the universe.   I as an artist am simply a channel passing on the music." Pires  now usually with her partner, violinist Augustin Dumay  is a passionate chamber musician: "If I had found the right musicians earlier, I would have been a chamber musician." She is particularly critical of the media and the international music business  "following a career goes against music"  and prefers the intimate atmosphere of the recording studio to the hubbub of the concert hall. Home for this mother of four is now a Portuguese farmhouse, where the rural peace stimulates her creativity; with a twinkle in her eye she recommends "milking a goat as a fabulous finger exercise, while kneading dough strengthens the fingers and relaxes the arm muscles." Maria Joao Pires loves spontaneity and dubs herself less of a pianist than a "program changer." Reviewers are stunned by her musical awareness of detail and the inner logic of her readings, which are pure poetry in performance. Her Chopin's Nocturnes are excellent.
 

Concerto No.2, 24 preludes
Pires 1
Deutsche Grammophon - #37817 / 1995
[GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE DE CHOPIN 1995]
Complete 21 Nocturnes
Pires 2

Deutsche Grammophon - #47096 / 1996
 

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  lear 

LearANGELA LEAR
29 September 1946, London (UK)

Angela Lear gave her first important public concert at the age of twelve in the Bishopsgate Hall, London. After a period of study with Fania Schlaen, who was a violinist and close friend of the great pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch, she went to the Royal Academy of Music, where she studied with Professor Guy Jonson, a pupil of Corot. After graduating she worked privately with Louis Kentner for three years. She won the Aetna Montague Gold Medal for her performance of Ravel, which led to lessons with Nadia Boulanger, though she turned down an offer to study Ravel for a year with Boulanger in France because she would bot neglect her first love, the Music of Fryderyk Chopin. Among the cognoscenti, Angela Lear is known as the world’s finest player of Chopin’s Music. Ironically, the fact that she spends so much time in (unpaid) research precludes her from entering the commercial establishment, where regular prominent public performance is essential. She is known by connoisseurs in Chopin Societies throughout the World and has played in the Societies of London, Casablanca, Rabat, Hannover and Warsaw. The Chopin Society of Warsaw have engaged her to play at his birthplace Zelazowa Wola, and at their Headquarters in the Ostrogski Palace, Warsaw. She has played all over the British Isles. As her fame spreads invitations are coming in from many sources, including Germany and Malta. The Polish Government have also recognised her pre-eminence in the performance of their National Composer, for they invited her to play at the Polish Embassy in London 1999 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his death, a unique honour, both for her and for Britain. The recital was an outstanding success. In 1996 she was awarded an Hon.M.Mus. by the University of East London for research and her performance on these recordings and in 1999 the Royal Academy of Music recognised her work by awarding her the A.R.A.M. Diploma. In 2008, she reissued the Chopin series under "The Chopin Collection". "Chopin held strong opinions about the performance of his music and the directions he left in his manuscripts are so specific that it’s astonishing how far modern performance has departed from his stated intentions. Most pianists over-dramatise his music, playing it too loudly and too fast, with scant attention to phrasing and dynamics and with inappropriate pedalling. Inaccuracies have crept into some of the more readily available printed editions. Chopin experts have long sought to remedy the situation and to recapture an authentic style of playing – among them Angela Lear. Her Chopin alongside other performances, even by some of the most respected pianists, is a revelation. Hear what Chopin really intended." BBC Music Magazine [Performance Awarded 5 Stars]

The Chopin Collection Vol.1-5
Lear
Angela Lear Co.

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  perahia 

PerahiaMURRAY PERAHIA
19 April 1947, New York (USA)

The leading American pianist of his generation and one of the most distinguished and distinctive pianists of the century, Murray Perahia has earned his place in the pantheon not by heaven-storming pyrotechnics but by the nineteenth-century virtues of beautiful sound, subtly caressed phrasing, and an innate ability to go straight to the musical heart of anything he plays. Murray Perahia has always seen himself first as a musician and only then as a pianist. And so he began by studying theory, counterpoint and analysis  because he needed to understand the structure of the music  and graduated in conducting from the Mannes School of Music in New York; since the age of eighteen, he has been his own piano teacher, though the summer classes of the famous Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont gave him the chance to study with Serkin, Casals and, above all, Horszowski ("Horszowski was always my idol") and play reams of chamber music. When he became the first American to win the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1972, winning 50 engagements with it, his career as a pianist was made. 1973 brought Perahia to the Aldeburgh Festival, laying the foundations of a fruitful artistic partnership with its founders Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Having "plunged" into life as a concert pianist, however, he soon felt the need to broaden his repertoire. Since finding time to withdraw from the concert platform after winning the Avery Fisher Scholarship in 1975, he has taken regular "sabbaticals," enabling him slowly but steadily to enlarge his repertoire: having originally gone for a few big "mainstream" concertos (Mozart, say, whom one reviewer heard him play "with a magnificent combination of majestic elegance and an almost Romantic passion") and the music of Schubert, Schumann and Chopin, he soon added Scarlatti, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Bartok. "I am more interested in the ideas behind the music than in one instrument," says Perahia. He has a low opinion of piano competitions, because they over-emphasize technical perfection at the expense of the more substantial musical aspects. "I love the idea that everything is contrapuntal. I don’t like massive chordal structures without any voice-leading. In other words, for me music is basically lyrical, and banging or tonal crashes for their own sake disturb me aesthetically." Perahia’s wonderful recordings from the last twenty years (many of them honoured with Grammys) are almost all in the catalogue  which indicates their value. One reviewer aptly summed up the compelling, magical side of Perahia’s playing like this: "Scrupulous clarity, careful articulation of the musical design, vivid imagination and  yes  a poetic lyricism."
 

Impromptus, barcarolle, berceuse, fantasy
Perahia 1
Sony Classics - #39708 / 1987
[GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE DE CHOPIN 1987]
Piano Concertos No.1 & 2
Perahia 2

Sony Classics - #44922 / 1990
[GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE DE CHOPIN 1990]

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  ohlsson 

OhlssonGARRICK OHLSSON
3 April 1948, New York (USA)

In 1970 a huge wall came crumbling down in Warsaw. When the dust had settled and the air had cleared, the world saw Garrick Ohlsson standing amidst the rubble. That day, he became the first American to win first prize in the International Chopin Competition. A barrier had been broken, and a marvelous new talent was discovered. Born and raised in White Plains, New York, Mr. Ohlsson took up the piano at the age of 8, and he soon began to aim his energies toward a life on the concert stage. Seeing Arthur Rubinstein at Carnegie Hall may have been the catalyst. In an interview with Michael Steinberg, he described the event: "I was blasted into orbit. And that's when I said in my mind at age 9 , when other little boys say 'I want to be a fireman,' that's what I want to do". His determination must have shown in his playing. He attended the Westchester Conservatory of Music and, at 13, began to study at The Juilliard School. He took first prize at the Busoni Competition in Italy in 1966 and at the Montreal Competition in 1968. Then there was the Warsaw Competition. Today his repertory spans 70 works, and he is still busy on the stage, having recently appeared with some of the world's premier ensembles, including the Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras, the New York Philharmonic, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In the realm of chamber music, he has performed with vocalist Jessye Norman, with the Emerson, Guarneri and Takacs quartets, and with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman. In 1991 his recording on Delos of Henri Lazarof's Tableaux for Piano and Orchestra with the Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz was nominated for a Grammy Award. He is currently in the midst of an international cycle of Chopin recitals for Arabesque Records. Garrick Ohlsson is managed by Shaw Concerts, Inc. Now that pianist Garrick Ohlsson has concluded his historic two-year cycle of the complete works for solo piano by Chopin, the musician can play what he wants. What's interesting is that Ohlsson wants to play Chopin. His Chopin's are excellent among his recordings. Powered into orbit by winning the International Chopin Competition in 1970, Ohlsson recently completed the monumental task of performing and recording all of the solo piano works of Chopin, something legendary "Chopinists" Artur Rubinstein and Claudio Arrau never attempted. His performances under the auspices of Lincoln Center's distinguished "Great Performers" series and his recording of Chopin's Polonaises and Impromptus on the Arabesque label have received glowing reviews. Of Ohlsson's final Chopin recital at Lincoln Center, Peter G. Davis of New York Magazine wrote: "If any casual listeners still harbored the misconception of Chopin as a confectioner of languid salon trifles, both Ohlsson's generous program and inspiring performances must have corrected that. Chopin-playing in the here and now does not get much better than this."
 

Piano works Vol. 1-12
Ohlsson
Arabesque / 1992

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  katsaris 

KatsarisCYPRIEN KATSARIS
5 May 1951, Marseille (France)

Born in Marseille in 1951, the french-chypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris first began to play the piano in Cameroon, were he spent his childhood, at the age of four. Later he studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Aline van Barentzen, Monique de la Bruchollerie and Jean Hubeau.
He won the International young Rostrum (Unesco 1977), the First Prize in the Cziffra Competition (1974), Prizes at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels (1972), the Albert Roussel Prize (1970) and a Certificate of Honor from the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (1970). Cyprien Katsaris has performed with some of the world's greatest orchestras, among them the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Philharmonia London, Concertbouw Orchestra… The list of conductors with whom he has collaborated includes Leonard Bernstein, Christoph Dohnanyi, Kurt Masur, Sandor Vegh, Eliahu Inbal, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Ivan Fischer, Mstislav Rostropovitch, among others. Besides the traditional repertoire, Cyprien Katsaris has been interested in rediscovering forgotten music, such as the Concerto in the Hungarian Style from Liszt/Tchaikovsky, which he brought back to life in recording with Eugen Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Cyprien Katsaris has extensively recorded for Teldec, Sony Classical, Decca, EMI, Deutsche Grammophon, BMG..;and received numerous awards : "Grand Prix du Disque Franz Liszt" in Budapest in 1984 and "Record of the year award" in Germany for Beethoven 'Ninth Symphony as transcribed by Franz Liszt; "Grand Prix du Disque Frédéric Chopin" in Warsaw for his recording of Chopin's Ballade and Scherzi in 1985. British Music Retailer's Association Award" for a Liszt recording 1986, and again "Grand prix du disque Franz Liszt" Budapest in 1989 for Beethoven/liszt Symphonies Nos.1 & 2. In 1992, the Japanese NHK TV produced a thirteen program series on Chopin with Cyprien Katsaris (masterclasses and performances)"Mr Katsaris is also very active as a chamber musician and enjoys working with singers". The recently formed Katsaris Piano Quintet received and enthusiastic response from press and audiences during its last tours in America, Japan, and Europe. Cyprien Katsaris is pursuing at present a major project, performing all of the concertos by W.A Mozart with Salzburg Kammerphilharmonie under the direction of Yoon K. Lee in Vienna (Musikverein) and Salzburg performances of the complete Mozart Cycle are recorded Live. His last appearances included concerts with orchestra and recitals in Carnegie Hall (New York), Saint-Petersburg, Theatre de la Monnaie (Brussels), Budapest, and Tokyo. Cyprien Katsaris has conducted masterclasses at the Salzburg Mozarteum, the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, The Arts Academy in Mexico, the University of Toronto, and the academy of Performing Arts in Hong Kong, and has been member of the jury of the Warsaw Chopin Competition and the Liszt international Competition in Utrecht. He has been music director of the Echternach Festival in Luxembourg since 1977.

 

Ballades & Scherzos
Katsaris 1
Teldec - #843053 / 1994
[GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE DE CHOPIN 1985]
Complete polonaises
Katsaris 2

Sony Classics - #53967 / 1994
 

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  zimerman 

ZimermanKRYSTIAN ZIMERMAN
7 December 1956, Zabrze (Poland)

Ever since his First Prize in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1975 Krystian Zimerman has held a position as one of the true aristocrats of piano playing in the 20th century. Although originally identified with the music of Chopin, he has gone on to establish himself as a true virtuoso, capable of playing every part of the piano repertoire with consummate ease and expertise. Krystian Zimerman is certainly one of today’s greatest pianists. His success in the 1975 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw launched his international career. "I was probably the only competitor there who did not want to compete. I wanted to spread a little happiness and give people something to remember. The fact that I totally detached myself from the actual competition emotionally and physically probably helped me win." Zimerman, soon labelled a Chopin specialist, met Artur Rubinstein in Paris in 1976. After the latter had heard Zimerman’s interpretations of the two early Brahms sonatas, he concluded that Zimerman was really a Brahms specialist. Such labels and snap judgments leave Zimerman cold. He alone decides his repertoire, ranging from Bach to Szymanowski, whatever the impresarios say: "Can you imagine how many concert promoters I had to approach to find at least a few who wanted the work [Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 1]?" Zimerman has studied piano construction and design  "that is the only way I can attain the sound I have in mind"   and always travels with his own grand piano. He is equally careful with recordings. It took ten years for Zimerman to make a recording of Liszt’s B minor Sonata that satisfied him. Zimerman describes his playing like this: "When I play, my ego is split in two  into a ‘thinker’ constantly realizing the interpretative vision, and a ‘worker’ realizing the pianistic ideal." Zimerman plays fifty concerts a year at most, plus chamber music and master classes. Critics agree that virtually every appearance by the publicity-shy pianist is unforgettable, like his 24 Debussy Preludes at the 1991 Salzburg Festival: "Zimerman combines the cult of pure beauty  with a tendency to dramatic narrative and sees Debussy’s intellectually refined tonal language as concealing a language of the soul.  At the same time he guards against seeing the Preudes purely as illustrative music, as a kaleidoscope of tinkling genre portraits.  No one has ever unfurled such a poetically convincing Debussy cosmos of spirituality and sentiment, clarity and magic, filigree and fury as Krystian Zimerman." The Preludes recording, like almost all Zimerman’s, was showered with prizes and now rivals the legendary version by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Above all of his Chopin's recordings, four ballades are among the finest ever made in the world.
 

4 Ballades
Barcarolle Op.60, Fantasy Op.49
Zimerman 1
Deutsche Grammophon - #23090 / 1988
 
2 Piano Concertos - Zimerman conducts
the Polish festival orchestra from the piano
Zimerman 2

Deutsche Grammophon - #459684 / 1999
[GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE DE CHOPIN 2000]

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  dang 

DangDANG THAI SON
2 July 1958, Ha Noi (Vietnam)

An emerging figure among the leading international musicians of our time, Vietnamese pianist, Dang Thai Son was propelled to the forefront of the musical world in October, 1980 when he was awarded the First Prize and Gold Medal at the Tenth International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. It was also the first time that a top international competition was won by an Asian pianist. He began piano studies with his mother in Hanoi. Discovered by the Russian pianist Isaac Katz, who was on visit in Vietnam in 1974, he pursued his advanced training at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Russia with Vladimir Natanson and Dmitry Bashkirov.Since winning the Chopin Competition at age 22, his international career has taken him to over forty countries and into world-known halls as Lincoln Centre (New York), Jordan Hall (Boston), Barbican Centre (London), Salle Pleyel (Paris), Herculessaal (Munich), Musikverein (Vienna), Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Opera House (Sydney) and Suntory Hall (Tokyo). Dang Thai Son has played with a number of world class orchestras, such as the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, Prague Symphony, Moscow Philharmonic as well as Virtuosi of Moscow, Vienna Chamber, Sinfonia Varsovia and Sydney Symphony. In 1995, he participated in a major international event produced by the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation that included Yo Yo Ma, Seiji Ozawa, Kathleen Battle and Mstislav Rostropovich. In 1999, he was the only foreign artist invited to participate as a soloist with the Warsaw National Opera Theatre Orchestra in the Gala concert opening the Chopin Year. Recent highlights include five performances in Isaac Stern’s Music Festival in Miyazaki, Japan (with three concerts with Pinchas Zukerman) as well as a six-city debut tour in China. In North America, he was invited to offer two major premiere performances at the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto and Jordan Hall in Boston, and sit on the Cleveland International Piano Competition jury. In 2001-2002, Dang Thai Son will be a guest soloist with the City of Birmingham Symphonic Orchestra under Sakari Oramo in Japan, the Pan-European Chamber Orchestra, the Baden-Baden Symphony Orchestra, and offer concerts in China, Russia, France, South America, Canada and the United States at the renowned Tcu-Cliburn Institute, notably, including master classes. In October 2005, Dang Thai Son was the only guest pianist to play with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra at the Opening Gala concert of the 15th International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, where he also sat as member of the jury. Dang Thai Son has recorded a lot of Chopin's music on Deutsche Grammophon, Melodya, Polskie Nagrania, CBS Sony, Victor JVC and Analekta. Since 1987, he has been a visiting professor at Kunitachi Music College (Tokyo). Following the invitation of Vladimir Ashkenazy, he has offered a master class in Berlin in October, 1999, alongside Murray Perahia and Mr. Ashkenazy himself. He also teaches at l'Université de Montréal.
 

2 Concertos Sinfonia Varsovia
Dang 1
Victor JVC - VICC-98 / 1992

Complete Preludes, Barcarolle
Dang 2
Analekta - #27703 / 1995

Concert in Munchen 1981
Dang 3
DG - POCG90422 / 463 301-2

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  kissin 

KissinEVGENY KISSIN
10 October 1971, Moscow (Russia)

Evgeny Kissin has been hailed since his first appearances as "the greatest pianistic sensation since Horowitz." For his part, the young artist compares himself to Artur Rubinstein, Dinu Lipatti, Annie Fischer or Krystian Zimerman. A shy piano virtuoso, he was a true prodigy, climbing up to the family piano at the age of two and a half and playing both Chopin concertos with the Moscow Philharmonic when he was twelve. Kissin's mother and teacher marvel at his perfect pitch and phenomenal memory. Kissin himself says: "It's hard to say something positive about oneself. But maybe I hope that the good thing about me is that I'm not used up." Chopin, Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Schumann have been Kissin's preferred repertoire to date. He only performs "what he feels really happy with, so his favourite composer "Bach is so universal, he is the whole story" will have to wait a while; his repertoire has been concentrated "for some time now between Haydn and Shostakovich." He does not overdo his daily practising: "Two to four hours a day are enough. If someone practises all day it means one of two things: either he has nothing else to do, or he has no talent. Kissin likes to compare his program schedule with a banquet: "First come the salad and the starter, then the main course, then the dessert. That way round. There's a reason for that, it makes sense, with food or with music. At the same time, he is not afraid of encores, giving no less than 13 at a Bologna concert in 1993! "The concert went on till half past midnight, till the stage-hands protested and put the lights out. The pianist has very precise views of how to work with conductors, valuing Abbado and Giulini most highly. At the keyboard he always submerges himself in the music: "He slowly revolves from his hips upwards, lifting his face repeatedly to the ceiling in a mysterious rhythm particularly when the noble melodies beneath his fingers rise to a peak. His playing combines "excellent technique and compelling musicianship with great freedom, taste and intelligence." Almost his whole active concert repertoire is now available on CD, and the live recording of his 1984 Chopin recital enjoys cult status.
 

4 Ballades, Barcarolle
Berceuse, Scherzo No.4
Kissin 1
Bmg/Rca Victor - #63259 / 1999
Preludes Op.28, Sonata Op.35
Polonaise Op.53
Kissin 2
Bmg/Rca Victor - #63535 / 2000

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(from Philips "Great pianists of the 20th century" and other sources of information including individual websites of pianists with their permission)

References: Click here for a full list of books and articles used to build this website

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CHOPIN : THE POET OF THE PIANO - © by Anh Tran. All rights reserved
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