07 Chopin PhillipsChopin – Ballades and Nocturnes
Jonathan Phillips
Divine Art DDX 21111 (divineartrecords.com)

What more can be said about Chopin – all too frequently referred to as the “poet of the piano?”  More than 170 years after his death, his music continues to enthrall connoisseurs and amateurs alike and this disc presenting the four Ballades and a selection of Nocturnes played by British pianist Jonathan Phillips is bound to be a welcome addition. A graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music, Phillips was winner of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales Soloist award in 1986. He has performed throughout Europe, but in 1998, began studies for a degree in philosophy, after which he was less inclined to pursue a career as a performing artist. 

Seldom is Chopin’s creativity so evident than in the four Ballades, written over a 17-year period between 1836 and 1843. Phillips’ approach is elegant and understated – his tempos are never rushed, nor does he resort to empty virtuosity, instead letting the music speak for itself. This is no more apparent than in the glorious fourth Ballade. From the calm and hesitant opening measures to the turbulent coda, Phillips is clearly in full command of this daunting repertoire, but never seeks to impress.

Of the five Nocturnes Phillps chose for this program, three – Op.9 No.2, Op.15 No.1 and Op.32 No.1 are early works, while two – Op.55 No.1 and Op.62 No.1 – were written considerably later. Phillips treats this lyrical and introspective music with a sensitive poignancy concluding the disc with a mood of true serenity. 

With his fine musicianship and impressive technique, it seems a pity that Phillips has too often forsaken the limelight, choosing instead to lead a more unassuming life with his family in the English Cotswolds. His talents most definitely deserve greater exposure.

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