CD Review: Gaudy, high-contrast Chopin from boundary-pushing young French pianist Lise de la Salle
I brought a new, all-Chopin CD with me for the drive yesterday to see and hear 15-year-old Calgarian Jan Lisiecki give the first of three all-Chopin recitals for Stratford Summer Music.
You can read about yesterday's recital in tomorrow's Star.
The disc I brought along for the drive is by Lise de la Salle, who, like Lisiecki, had a public performance début at a young age, and was only in her mid-teens when she began serious work at a top-notch music conservatory.
Both pianists were performing Chopin's concertos live yesterday -- Lisiecki tackling No. 1 in Stratford, de la Salle enjoying No. 2 at La Roque d'Anthéron festival with Sinfonia Varsovia (who accompany Lisiecki on his Chopin CD).
De la Salle turns 22 this year, and has been recording for French label Naive for eight years. The Chopin album is her fifth. The others have garnered all kinds of critical praise. De la Salle has about as full a concert calendar as any human being can handle.
So, I slipped the CD into my car's audio system and was shocked. The disc opens with Chopin's four multi-dimensional Ballades, which run the gamut of moods, from quietly wistful to manic. De la Salle's technique is incredible, and she is capable of that silken touch that Chopin's quiet passages demand. But, otherwise, she commits every aesthetically self-indulgent crime imaginable, including playing quiet passages extra slowly and then speeding up whenever there's a crescendo.
The disc is the aural equivalent of an actor chewing scenery. Obviously, many listeners will be captivated, but I couldn't stand it. (Click on the disc cover image for details about this album.)
Every artist wants to put their individual stamp on an interpretation. Especially in the case of repertoire that's frequently recorded, they want to give listeners a reason to pay attention. But there is a point where individuality oversteps the boundary between compelling and attention-seeking, between tasteful and gaudy.
From the music marketers' point of view, there's also the issue of novelty. In the classical canon, it's not the music that is new, but the artist and their interpretation. Frequently, it seems, the quest for novelty trumps respect for art.
Or am I just being a cranky critic?
Feeling a bit queasy from having these perennial issues rattling around in my brain, I sat down for Lisiecki's live performance and was treated to something completely different and refreshing. Oh, bliss.
Here is a promotional video made by Naïve for de la Salle's Chopin album, followed by two clips from earlier efforts (Liszt's take on a Prelude and Fugue in A minor by J.S. Bach, followed by two movements from Prokofiev's Roméo et Juliette suite):