Charles Richard-Hamelin continues his exploration of Frédéric Chopin’s oeuvre with this recording of the Preludes, op. 28, and the Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante, op. 22.
Chopin sketched out the Grande polonaise brillante in 1830 in Warsaw, shortly before leaving his native land for good; the Andante spianato would come several years later, in 1834. Contemplative and even-keeled (spianato meaning “level”), the Andante contrasts strikingly with the ensuing Grande polonaise brillante – probably the last example of the brilliant style typical of Chopin’s early works. Chopin premiered the diptych on April 26, 1835 at the Paris Conservatoire, accompanied by an orchestra led by the founder of the Société des concerts du conservatoire, François Antoine Habeneck. The orchestra plays a secondary role, so the work is generally performed for solo piano – as it is on this recording – with the pianist performing the orchestral parts.
Likely begun in 1837, the Preludes were completed during Chopin’s stay in Majorca with George Sand in the winter of 1838 – 1839. The couple and Sand’s children took up residence in Palma in November and were initially enchanted, as noted by Chopin in a letter to Julian Fontana: “It is sunny all day. At night, one hears guitars and singing for hours on end… I feel better.” The spell was short-lived, however. Mistrust from the locals, the delayed delivery of the Pleyel pianino he had ordered, and the severe climate soon took its toll on both their enthusiasm and Chopin’s health. When doctors diagnosed tuberculosis in mid-December, Chopin, Sand, and the children were evicted from their villa and took refuge in the Valldemossa Charterhouse. “The cell,” wrote Chopin to Fontana, “is shaped like a great coffi n; an enormous dusty vault, a small bay window overlooking orange, palm, and cypress trees… silence… one can shout… still silence.”
Breaking with the long tradition of the keyboard prelude dating back to 15th-century Germany, the Preludes introduce neither fugue nor etude. So it is perhaps their number – 24, or one for each key – that explains why Chopin chose this title for his opus 28, which Franz Liszt found so innovative: “these are poetic preludes … that cradle the soul in golden dreams and elevate it to the regions of the ideal. Admirable in their diversity, the labour and knowledge that went into them can be appreciated only by careful study. They are full of spontaneity, élan, and bounce. They have that free and grand character typical of works of genius. ” The collection is a microcosm of Chopin’s oeuvre and features several of his preferred musical characteristics or genres.
© Florence Brassard
English translation: Peter Christensen