The music of Frédéric Chopin is known for its delicacy and clarity – qualities which it definitely has, but it’s worth remembering that Chopin’s music has historically been played very differently. Unfortunately we only have written accounts of Chopin’s playing, but recordings from the first half of the 20th century give us an idea of how much Chopin interpretation has changed. So I present to you 3 great Chopin recordings as a counterbalance to current trends in Chopin performance. They might sound
wrong to you at first, but bear in mind that Josef Hofmann was a pupil of Anton Rubinstein, who heard Chopin play in his studio, and Alfred Cortot knew several of Chopin’s pupils.
First of all, Josef Hofmann’s live 1938 recording of Chopin’s lesser-known Polonaise in Eb minor, Op.26 No.2:
His playing gets so loud at 1:27 that he maxes out the capabilities of the recording equipment.
Next, Alfred Cortot’s 1933 interpretation of the finale of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No.2 in Bb minor, Op.35 (jump to 6:30 if the video player doesn’t do it automatically):
Listen to how he picks out individual notes at 7:24.
(Here’s the rest of the recording.)
(The whole set is pretty extraordinary.)
Of course, I’m not saying that these are the only ways to play these pieces, but you’ll get more ideas about how to interpret Chopin if you listen to older recordings than if you only listen to contemporary pianists. If you’d like to hear more
authentic renditions, listen to recordings by Chopin’s pupils.