Official release: May 2021
This Da Vinci Classics album encompasses and gathers a florilegium of some of the most beautiful and celebrated works for solo piano by Frédéric Chopin. And this is not a minor feat. For many classical music lovers, the piano repertoire and Chopin’s works are virtually coextensive. And even though this attitude is unfair towards other great composers who left magnificent piano works, the truth is that one cannot be an accomplished pianist without mastering numerous pieces by Chopin. The mark left by this composer not only on the literature and repertoire, but also on the idiom, on the language of piano music, is unmistakable and unique. He was able to find the formulae (at the level of both melody and of accompaniment) which suited best, and put in the best possible light, the timbral resources of an instrument which was still young and vastly to be explored.
He crafted and created whole genres, frequently by perfecting preexisting forms, and sometimes by radically reinventing them. The Etude, for example, was hardly a novelty: exercises for the keyboard (as for any other instrument) had been created by a plethora of composers and teachers, sometimes reaching heights of artistic beauty (such is the case, for example, with Scarlatti’s Sonatas, frequently called Essercizii). However, Chopin was probably the first among the keyboard composers to create true artistic masterpieces within the boundaries of the seemingly arid repetition of real “studies”. Most of twenty-seven Etudes he published (op. 10, op. 25 and op. posth.) are built on technical formulae ceaselessly repeated and transposed, following the tradition of the dullest mechanical exercises. Still, the composer’s genius managed to transform this exquisitely dry principle into the generating power of a wreath of unforgettable pieces. One has simply to consider the opening Etude of op. 25 (track 5 of this album), whereby an arpeggiated structure of broken chords is magically transformed into a hypnotic and ecstatic pattern, over which a singing tune floats and slowly emerges, shyly at first, and later with a full and touching expressiveness.
The case with op. 25 no. 12 is even more striking. Here the mechanical aspect is constituted by a series of powerful and energetic arpeggios played by both hands together over the keyboard’s full extension. The tune (if there is one) is hidden within the pattern of the arpeggiated chords; however, in spite of the sheer amount of technical difficulty, the result is musically enthralling and intensely touching. The technical aspect thus becomes a pretext for a piece with an extreme emotional force, and one which has rightly conquered pride of place in the repertoire of countless pianists, as well as in the hearts of listeners all over the world.
The genre of the Nocturne was similarly not an autonomous creation by Chopin. It had been practised earlier, most notably by John Field who had written a number of touching masterpieces in this genre. However, it was with Chopin that this genre acquired widespread dissemination and became one of the epitomes of the Romantic era. In this Da Vinci Classics album are collected some of the gems among the many masterpieces left by Chopin in this field. Nocturne op. 9 no. 2 is one of the best-known pieces of the entire classical repertoire. It has been performed with enchanting touch by some of the greatest pianists of all times, and trivialized in the hands of countless amateurs. Yet, it maintains its freshness and inspiration, in spite of the merciless price of popularity, with its lyrical tune accompanied by a caressing movement of triplets and its graceful embellishments culminating in an ethereal cadenza.
A similar structure and compositional idea, though with a distinctly darker mood, is found in Nocturne op. posth. 72 (track 9), whose opening tune appears at first as the minor version of the melody of its predecessor. A similar tone of nostalgia animates another of the Nocturnes recorded here (track 12), the celebrated C-sharp minor Nocturne. As in the case of op. 9 no. 2, it has entered popular culture also thanks to its widespread use in films, commercials and other video productions; here, part of the merit for its inclusion within the shared musical world beyond the boundaries of classical music is due to the soundtrack of The Pianist, the touching film about the Holocaust in Warsaw.
Two of the other Nocturnes recorded here share a similar compositional principle, i.e. the presence of the dotted rhythm which is reminiscent of a march rhythm. This happens with the two Nocturnes in C minor (tracks 4 and 8): the combination of this specific rhythmic signature and of the same key suggests an atmosphere of funereal march. This reveals the deep fascination felt by many Romantic artists when facing the mystery of death. Within a culture which had begun to prize the “sublime” (and thus also the horrid and frightening) along with the beautiful (i.e. the proportioned and the balanced), death was not only something to be feared and avoided, but also a source of magnetic attraction. Interestingly, here the accompaniment frequently adopts a chordal writing instead of the common arpeggios, thus increasing the feeling of an impending doom.
By way of contrast, Nocturne op. 27 no. 2 (track 2) is a dreamy wandering into the enchanted realm of the sounds; here the arpeggios and the embellishments concur in weaving a precious pattern of lightness, an impalpable veil of enchantment and magic.
Still another of the pieces recorded here seems to belong in the realm of the Nocturnes, though it bears the title of “Prelude”. It is no. 15 (track 11), excerpted from the twenty-four Preludes of op. 28. In this case, Chopin consciously situated himself within a tradition which was already august in his time. In particular, his explicit reference was to the Preludes found in J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Keyboard. He consulted the score of Bach’s masterpieces at the time of the composition of his own Preludes, up to the point of modelling the number of bars of his pieces upon those of Bach’s works, as demonstrated by the studies of Ruth Tatlow. Here too, however, the innovative talent of the Polish musician is revealed in a clear fashion: while the Preludes by Bach (and those by other musicians before and after him) were Preludes “to” something else (e.g. Fugues), Chopin claimed for the Prelude the status of an autonomous creation. After him, numerous composers (such as Claude Debussy) would compose Preludes detached from any other work.
This specific piece is in turn one of the best known of the collection, and, similar to what happened to one of the two Etudes recorded here, is commonly known with a famous nickname. One of the two Etudes is commonly referred to as “Aeolian Harp” (op. 25 no. 1); this Prelude is known as “Raindrop”. The subtitle is justified by the obsessive ticking of the left hand’s quavers; their gentle sound becomes a menacing and dark Chorale in the beautiful central section of the piece, once more reminiscent of burials and death.
By way of contrast, two pieces in the collection gathered here express the joyful, exuberant and brilliant vitality of Chopin the piano virtuoso. Suggestively, both are in the key of A-flat major: the Waltz (op. 34 no. 1, track 10), known as “Grande Valse Brillante” is a radiant piece, with a joyful character which seems to exude from its very beginning. The Polonaise op. 53 (track 3) is in turn one of the best known among the numerous pieces by this title written by Chopin. Once more, the Polonaise as a dance had a long history already; however, the mixture between the musical potential of this genre and of its characteristic rhythm on the one hand, and the proud identification of the composer with his homeland on the other, caused the Polonaise, in Chopin’s hands, to become something utterly different from what it used to be. This particular piece is probably the greatest Polonaise ever written, with its technical complexity, the broadness and breadth of its melodic phrases, the galloping octaves in the central sections, and the breathtaking pace of its musical material. Here too the title of “Heroic” is inseparable from this piece, and, indeed, it is fully deserved. It is a piece requiring some heroism and perfectly depicting it at the same time.
Last but not least, the two remaining pieces in this album contribute their own specific qualities to the portrait of Chopin painted in this recording. The Fantaisie-Impromptu op. posth. 66 (track 13) is an etude-like piece, built on a revolutionary rhythmical idée fixe, whereby the left hand’s sextuplets constantly conflict with the right hand’s quadruplets. This irreconcilable opposition gives birth to a suggestive effect of rhythmical fluidity and blurring, whereby the normal accents of the measure give way to a flow of notes in a palpitating game of light.
The Second Ballade (track 7), by way of contrast, begins with an obsessive rhythmic figuration, within which the musical elements (harmony and melody) come to light only gradually. However, the result is a calming and caressing one, conforming to the qualities traditionally attributed to the key of F major, with its natural and pastoral overtones. The piece obviously grows to include whirlwinds of virtuoso passages and troubling moments, but constantly returns to its haven of peace.
Together, these works portray the multidimensionality of Chopin’s genius, which was capable to reinvent traditional forms, to reinterpret older genres, to create new ones, but, most importantly, to impress a unique mark on each and every piece flowing from his pen.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Andrea Trovato: Pianist and organist, is a bright professional, having wide expertise as a concert performer and teacher. Active both as a soloist and in chamber ensembles, he performs various genres, from early to contemporary music not excluding opera and symphonic works. He has teamed up with important centres such as the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Theatre and the Trieste Opera Theatre.
In 1994 he graduated in Piano from the Florence Conservatory with full marks and honour thanks to the counsel of Lucia Passaglia; he then advanced in his studies at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, in the class of Sergio Perticaroli, obtaining, in 2001, the three-year Advanced Course diploma once more with flying colours. In 2000, he also graduated in Organ and Organ Composition from the Florence Conservatory and then earned, in 2007, a 2nd-level degree in Piano, it goes without saying summa cum laude.
Still very young, he won various first prizes at prestigious national and international competitions, as Rome’s T.I.M. (Torneo Internazionale di Musica), the “Città di Albenga” National Competition, the “G. Benassi” International Competition in Pavia, and the “Debussy Prize” at the Stresa International Competition.
He constantly performs both as a solo pianist and organist in Italy and abroad (in New York, Paris, Lausanne, Athens, Rhodes, Brussels, Antwerp, Chicago, Salzburg, Wien, Köln...) for prestigious concert societies, such as Università Bocconi, Società dei Concerti and Società Umanitaria of Milan, Barnard College of Columbia University, “Steinway Piano Series” of South Florida University, St. Patrick’s Cathedral “Kilgen Organ Series” in New York (U.S.A.), 32. Heidelberger Klavierwoche (Germany), “Die Goldene Stunde” in Wien (Austrian), Lausanne Cathedral Organ Series (Switzerland), Temps Fort Musique and Accueil Musical (France), OpusArtis, Fundación Andrés Segovia and Associació Pau Casals (Spain), Ljetni Festival Rovinj (Croatia), Polyphonia Atheneaum (Greece), and many others.
Since 2010, with the Contemporartensemble of Florence, he has performed at the “Concerts at the Quirinale Palace” (Rome), broadcast by Rai RadioTre, he has also been invited to the “Festival dei Due Mondi” in Spoleto and to the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival.
His discography includes “Liszt all’Opera: Paraphrases and Transcriptions” for the label Dynamic, “Bellini & Chopin: Chamber Arias and Piano Works” for the label Tactus, the world premier recording of Pietro Mascagni's Cantata “Alla Gioja” for Solo, Chorus and Piano, published by the label Concerto Classics, the “George Gershwin: Complete Piano Works” for the label KNS Classical, the “Une flute enchantée”, original works for soprano, flute and piano (label Da Vinci Classics).
In 2014 he has been named as a Distinguished Steinway Artist by piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons (Germany).
For many years he has been a teacher in Italian conservatories, currently he is titular professor of Piano Performance at the State Conservatory of Music "F. Venezze" in Rovigo.
Frédéric Chopin: (b Żelazowa Wola, nr Warsaw, 1 March 1810; d Paris, 17 Oct 1849). Polish composer and pianist. He combined a gift for melody, an adventurous harmonic sense, an intuitive and inventive understanding of formal design and a brilliant piano technique in composing a major corpus of piano music. One of the leading 19th-century composers who began a career as a pianist, he abandoned concert life early; but his music represents the quintessence of the Romantic piano tradition and embodies more fully than any other composer’s the expressive and technical characteristics of the instrument.