Thursday 29 January 2015

Estonian pianist Ralf Taal in Chopin

Magic of Sound - Ralf Taal
Chopin Preludes, Etudes, Ballade no. 4, Poloniase in A flat major, Scherzo no. 2; Ralf Taal; ERP Music
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2015
Poised all-Chopin programme from young Estonia pianist

The Estonian pianist Ralf Taal (born 1974) was a name that was new to me. In fact, searching the Gramophone database his name does not seem to occur but I feel sure that it will. On this new disc Magic of Sound on ERP Taal presents a programme of Chopin's piano music pairing the complete Preludes Op.26 with  Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, Etude Op.10 No. 2 in A minor, Etude Op.10 No. 4 in C sharp minor, Etude Op.10 No. 5 in G flat major, Polonaise in A flat major Op. 53 and Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 31.

Taal studied at the Estonian Academy of Music and in 1993 he won the All-Estonian competition dedicated to Grieg's 150th anniversary. He also won the Estonian pianists' and young musicians' competition Con Brio in 1994, and was awarded the Special Prize for the youngest finalist at the Schubert International Competition in Dortmund in 1995. In 2011 he was awarded the Annual Prize of the Estonian Culture Endowment's Music Endowment.

Ralf Taal
Ralf Taal
Chopin's Etudes Op. 10 was the first work by him which attracted wider attention in Paris at the beginning of the 1830's. The cycle was premiered by Liszt, who was impressed despite his being a very different type of piano virtuoso to Chopin. Like many of his contemporaries, Chopin composed for his own performance and hence frequently worked in standard forms, Etudes, Preludes etc. But to these forms he brought his own very particular sense of form, melody and harmony. It is notable the way that as his career progressed he became more confident in stretching and developing genres. Moving the Nocturne a long way from those of John Field, making virtuoso piano tone-poems out of dance genres like the Polonaise and Mazurka and creating in the Ballade his own genre. This is particularly noticeable in the way he developed the Scherzo from a small scale characteristic piece into something with a wide range of expression.

Though he wrote piano sonatas, you sense that it is in these other genres he was more comfortable, just as in concert he preferred smaller, private venues to Liszt's large scale barnstorming recitals. Living in Paris in the 1830's he gave a single annual recital at a larger venue (such as Camille Pleyel's hall with 300 seats), but for the rest he preferred private tuition, composing and playing in the salon. And such was his celebrity that he could make this work.

On this disc Taal plays his attractive selection of Chopin's music with discreet virtuosity. He has the ability to craft a robust yet poetic line and bring an underlying strength to the music but equally there is a nice quicksilver feeling to the faster passages. He does not over use rubato, giving us more a sense of poised, classical poetry than powerful romantic rubato. In terms of speeds Taal holds a similarly balanced middle ground, being neither the fastest nor the slowest. But nor does that mean he is steady, his fluid feel for tempo and flow are impressive.

You can sample three tracks from the CD on the Magic of Sound page on the ERP website.

Frederic Chopin (1810 - 1849) - Preludes Op.29 (1836-39) [39.05]
Frederic Chopin (1810 - 1849) - Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op.52 (1842) [11.20]
Frederic Chopin (1810 - 1849) - Etude Op.10 No.2 in A minor (1830) [1.37]
Frederic Chopin (1810 - 1849) - Etude Op.10 No.4 in C sharp minor (1832) [2.10]
Frederic Chopin (1810 - 1849) - Etude Op.10 No.5 in G flat major (1830) [1.47]
Frederic Chopin (1810 - 1849) - Polonaise in A flat major Op.53 (1842) [6.28]
Frederic Chopin (1810 - 1849) - Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor Op.31 (1837) [10.38]
Ralf Taal (piano)
Recorded May 2012, Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre
ERP 8014 1 CD

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