Chopin • Mompou • Barber
Piano Concertos and other works
Daniil Trifonov p, Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
DG 4797518 (2CD)

As concept albums go, this is certainly one of the better ones. That Chopin’s exquisite shadow extended long beyond his tragically short life is hardly news, but I for one certainly didn’t realise how far its delicate tentacles reached. While it’s understandable that Schumann and Grieg – and even to a lesser extent Tchaikovsky – should have been inspired, I was intrigued to see Samuel Barber included in this homage. The Barber work is actually dedicated to the memory of John Field, the real ‘inventor’ of the nocturne, but it’s essentially Chopin-inspired.

The inclusion of both the Chopin concertos is interesting, especially as orchestration was hardly his strong point. Chopin’s genius at extending the piano repertoire in a way that no other composer (except perhaps Beethoven) has done before or since, did not extend to orchestration. Mikhail Pletnev
has reorchestrated the concertos to thin out these often clunky scores. Trifonov – himself incidentally the composer of a quite listenable piano concerto (is there anything this boy can’t do?) – takes noticeably slow tempi in both works, yet, such is his mastery they never seem to drag nor degenerate into a sort of contest of man-versus-piano.

For me, the real star of this CD was Federico Mompou’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin, based on the Op. 28 Prelude No 7 in A. Mompou, who died in 1987, is a composer whose time has well and truly come. The work is neither eruptive, nor virtuosic (unlike the much less interesting Mozart Don Giovanni Variations also offered in the set) but rather elegant, diaphanous, and at times gently tongue in cheek, bringing a 20th-century vibe. Trifonov does it proud. In short, a lovely perusal of Chopin’s music and its inspirational effect on subsequent composers.