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CHOPIN // 4 Ballades

Philippe Bianconi,

Since his success at the Van Cliburn International Competition in the 1980s, Philippe Bianconi has made an international career, pursuing his musical itinerary and patiently carving out his path far from media hype. The release of his disc of Debussy’s Préludeson La Dolce Volta was one of the major recording events of the year 2012, winning a deluge of international distinctions and a nomination at the Victoires de la Musique Classique in the category ‘Recording of the Year’.

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Estimated delivery by 31/07/2021

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Description

First of all, it was a foregone conclusion that Bianconi’s first Chopin disc would feature the ballades, given the place they have occupied for so long in his musical universe. He preferred to follow the ballades with an exploration of the later Chopin in the Fourth Scherzo and the Barcarolle. Chopin’s last years display an extraordinary evolution of his musical language, with a harmonic freedom and a refinement that look far into the future.
Having recorded the complete Debussy Préludes for La Dolce Volta in 2012, Philippe Bianconi was all the more likely to be alive to the extent to which the music of Chopin opens up new perspectives and heralds the innovations of musical Impressionism. In what ways this immersion in the Debussyan universe has influenced his approach to Chopin. The great harmonic freedom Chopin discovered in the course of his career was the very foundation of the attitude of Debussy, who went on to emancipate the language of music. One can add to this point a shared love of colour, of the instrument, a physical rapport with the keyboard, which is always coaxed, never treated aggressively.

The choice is evident: to speak before singing – which does not mean not to sing, but to sing in the shadows, in the darkness, with reserve. The result is like an etching, a refreshing change from so many performances that make the ballades seem like descriptive tone poems, and clearly brings out the structure, that hidden strength of Chopin’s music.

Pianism of such sombre radiance recalls the nature (though not the intentions) of Samson François’s playing, and shows the degree of maturity Philippe Bianconi has now attained. We are prepared to bet that, whatever repertory he may record next, you will be gripped by his personal universe.

  • Ballade no.1 in G minor, op.23 9’53
  • Ballade no.2 in F major, op.38 7’45
  • Prelude in C sharp minor, op.45 5’30
  • Ballade no.3 in A flat major, op.47 7’42
  • Ballade no.4 in F minor, op.52 12’00
  • Scherzo no.4 in E major, op.54 12’00
  • Barcarolle in F sharp major, op.60 9’02

 

« BIANCONI PLAYS CHOPIN » - Gramophone

Philippe Bianconi has not enjoyed an exactly high-profile career since winning the silver medal at the Seventh Van Cliburn International Competition in 1985. In the extensive booklet (French, English, Japanese, German) attached to this handsomely produced release, the French pianist (b1960) speaks eloquently of his lifetime’s attachment to the music he plays here.

I cannot recall another version of the Four Ballades in which every note is so clearly articulated or phrasing which lends such lucid narrative to the unfolding drama – try the final pages of the F minor Ballade, which usually fly by in a flurry. There is an unshowy integrity and honesty about Bianconi’s interpretations that is entirely admirable. The downside is that by thus highlighting Chopin’s contrapuntal ingenuity – no right-hand Chopiniste he – and adopting far slower tempi than the norm, Bianconi misses the propulsive drama of these tone-poems. In the G minor and F minor Ballades, for instance, both Cortot and Perahia agree on timings of 8’49” and 9’46” in their benchmark recordings, compared with Bianconi’s 9’53” and 12’00” for the two works.

The enigmatic Prelude in C sharp minor, Op 45, was composed between the Second Ballade and the Third – which is where Bianconi places it in his programme, thoughtfully and sensitively played, like the Barcarolle which closes the disc. Preceding that is the Scherzo No 4 in which, like the Ballades, drama is sacrificed for textual clarity in a performance that fails to take flight.

Since his success at the Van Cliburn International Competition in the 1980s, Philippe Bianconi has made an international career, pursuing his musical itinerary and patiently carving out his path far from media hype.

A pupil of Simone Delbert-Février at the Conservatoire in Nice, where he was born, Philippe Bianconi is the only major French pianist to have entered the international competition circuit without previously studying at the Paris Conservatoire. His prizes at the Jeunesses Musicales International Competition in Belgrade, the Robert Casadesus International Competition in Cleveland, and notably the Van Cliburn Competition were his launching pads for a brilliant career in North America. He appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1987, and went on play with many of the leading North American orchestras, including Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Montreal. His career then took on a worldwide dimension and from Berlin to Sydney, Beijing to London, Paris to San Francisco, he has received high praise for the poetry of his playing and the beauty of his tone.

The release of his disc of Debussy’s Préludes on La Dolce Volta was one of the major recording events of the year 2012, winning a deluge of international distinctions and a nomination at the Victoires de la Musique Classique in the category ‘Recording of the Year’.

From 2013 to 2017, Philippe Bianconi was the director of the American Conservatory of Fontainebleau. Founded in 1921 to introduce the best American music students to the French musical tradition of teaching, composing and performing, it has included on its faculty the most prestigious names: Maurice Ravel, Marcel Dupré, Robert, Gaby and Jean Casadesus, Jean Francaix, Henri Dutilleux, Betsy Jolas, Leonard Bernstein… From the first, Nadia Boulanger devoted her talent, energy, knowledge, and influence to the American Conservatory of which she was Director from 1949 to 1979.

Since October 2018, Philippe Bianconi teaches at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris-Alfred Cortot.

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