Maria João Pires
Deutsche Grammophon 477 7483

Nothing but good can be said about this set issued by DGG to celebrate Maria João Pires’ 20 years with the Gesellschaft and entirely devoted to Chopin. Now in her sixties, this rather elusive artist, inspiring teacher and ardent philanthropist has avoided the trimmings of easy fame and the nowadays so prevalent jet-setting. Even on this disc, instead of just playing “popular pieces” she focuses on Chopin’s last five years, beginning with the Third Sonata and ending with his ultimate work, the Mazurka in f minor.

Chopin as we know died very young, at age 39 and his last years were plagued with illness, an unhappy love affair and other pressures. Although already the most original innovator for the piano, by extending the keyboard to its full length and making new harmonies using the enharmonic scales and chromaticism, in his last years he even tried to break out of this bond by rejecting the tonal centre entirely. In this respect he was paving the way to Debussy and Scriabin. The 3rd sonata is “profoundly chaotic and using an energy towards an entirely new logic” (Pires). Her playing, with the beautifully seductive expression of the 2nd theme of the opening movement, the filigree dexterity of the Scherzo, the heartrendingly delicate Lento and the emotionally turbulent, exhausting Finale, makes it the most momentous performance on the disc.

The very complex Polonaise Fantasie is another example of this “new logic” that seems to go in many directions, but with the pulsating, syncopated and sometimes barely present dance tempo solidly maintained she holds the piece triumphantly together. There is also a curiosity, the Cello Sonata (with Pavel Gomziakov), and a number of Mazurkas, Nocturnes and Waltzes to round out the disc, among them the Minute Waltz played in just under 2 minutes!

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