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Angela Lear is an excellent pianist, with a solid virtuoso technique and a great deal of poetry. Perhaps she does not have the physical vigour of Marc-André Hamelin (who does?), but she gives a splendid account of the 'Ocean' Etude (Op 25 No 12) [listen -- 0:00-0:37]. Perhaps also she does not have the highest level of poetic sensibilities such as Emil Gilels (who does?), but Lear is capable of lyricism, heroism, fancy and delight in splendid quantity.

I say this and say it in this way because Lear has put herself forward in the arena of Chopin performance and placed herself at odds with virtually the entire general tradition of Chopin interpretation. This is a dangerous thing to have done. It will not do to compare her with some giant, find her wanting and then denigrate her researches and findings. She deserves a fair hearing judged upon her own merits, capacities and contributions. Therefore, let me repeat, Angela Lear is an excellent pianist and musician.

The current approach with the Chopin Etudes is to play them as gigantic tournaments of pianistic virtuosity (and even Lear believes they occupy the highest summit -- though I think they do not) with fantastic vehemence and absolute clarity of the notes.

Edmund Burke, that sad conservative who did not fully grasp his own thoughts, rightly understood that the obscure, the veiled and the unclear could actually have a more profound impact than the plain and precise. As he stands at the onset of Romanticism in poetry and music, his observations may indeed have been borne out by the music of Chopin.

But Lear is quite right to question the unbridled virtuosity that is imposed on Chopin. 'They play it fast' Chopin himself lamented to Charles Hallé. Chopin wanted to 'steal away' Liszt's way of playing the études. Perhaps not because he wanted to play like Liszt but rather that he wanted Liszt's approached stopped?

Thus, if instead of the enormous choral Etude in swarming arpeggios which is how Op 10 No 1 is usually played, we hear Lear play it at a restrained dynamic and though no dynamic is found in the manuscript, are we not in for a shock [listen -- 0:00-0:42]?

But as an aside, and here Lear may find further support for her opinions, Moriz Rosenthal recorded this very étude and his too is lighter, less pedaled and somewhat less vehement than the modern norm, though this is often attributed to his advanced age and degenerating technique. But he studied with a pupil of Chopin's.

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Copyright © 14 February 2004 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada


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