FREDERIC CHOPIN - Etudes - Hardy Rittner

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FREDERIC CHOPIN - Complete Etudes - Hardy Rittner (Piano) - Conrad Graf Piano (c 1835) - Hybrid SACD - 760623174761 - Released: May 2012 - MDG 9041747

Bravery isn't facing an army of 1000 by yourself. Bravery is not swimming in shark infested waters. No, true courage is performing all of Frédéric Chopin's Piano Etudes on an 1835 Conrad Graf Piano to great effect, and coming out the other end without any emotional scars. Therefore pianist Hardy Rittner must have a cast iron stomach and nerves of steel. On a modern concert grand, by clever use of the sustain pedal one can easily conceal imperfections and blunders within the flurry of sound the instrument can unleash, but not on a 19th century pianoforte. The lack of overall resonance combined with a quick decay of the notes, reinforced by the sharp brilliance of its upper register, would reveal the smallest of technical flubs clearly. On this instrument, all of the finest inner filigree, note for note, is in sharp focus.

Not only does Hardy Rittner clear all the technical hurdles with ease, he also exposes the charm, poetry, wit and emotional essence behind each and every étude. Highlights are the Op. 25 in E minor, the F minor from the Trois nouvelles études of 1839, and most noticeably the monumental Op. 25 in C minor. How he manages to summon so much power, such a torrent of sound from this Conrad Graf is unbelievable. This is one of the études that demands the most Herculean technique and stamina, combined with total emotional abandon in order to become a thing of beauty. And Rittner makes it glow with energy.

On a few rare occasions, the instrument exposes a bit of a metallic edge to certain notes, but then that's the inherent factor that in the end, makes it scintillating. The MDG sound recording is superb, and has captured every detail of the piano and each and every nuance of the performance remarkably. I was the first one to assume that these pieces would not come off properly on this type of instrument. Boy was I ever wrong!

Jean-Yves Duperron - June 2012