BBC Young Musician Lara Melda has released an all-Chopin disc on Champs Hill Records which brings together a maturity well beyond her years mixed with the freshness of youth. Melda won the BBC Competition in 2010, playing Saint-Saëns' Second Piano Concerto with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Vassily Petrenko:
The Anglo-Turkish pianist has enjoyed a number of critical successes already, but this disc might well make the true beginning of a remarkable journey. It takes guts to begin a disc with a succession of Nocturnes - deliberately sleepy music, the clue's in the title - but her delivery of the three of Op. 9 - the first Nocturnes with an opus number - is remarkable in its timbral variety. Chopin's Nocturnes are sometimes given short shrift by pianists as somehow inferior to the rest of his major works, but Melda persuades us that this is Chopin at his best.
The First Ballade is available as a seperate download at Amazon:
In the Champs Hill performance, the fingerwork positively glistens, but it is in the storytelling that Melda's art lies. As the first lyrical theme we hear (after the introduction in octaves) returns over and over again, it frows in complexity and emotional weight: Melda understands this cumulative effect, and so keeps the moments in between the outbursts simmering with expectation. We just know the tension has to release, and so it does, eventually, in that towering coda (how refreshing, too, to hear a pianist that can count rests so accurately).
Nocturnes and Ballades form the content of this particular "story", pairs of Nocturnes inserted between the first and second Ballades and between the third and fourth.The two Nocturnes of Op. 27, which separate the Second and Third Ballades, contain some of Chopin's most gorgeous writing; and, in the coda of the D flat, Op. 27/2, some of his most progressive (it almost sounds like Debussy).
The Second and Third Ballades complement each other beautifully, both containing moments of highest beauty, both containing outbursts of the soul. No doubting the logic of the Op. 48 Nocturnes after the firey ending of the Third; balm for the soul, at least initially. But these Nocturnes are more mini-me Ballades; Melda seems to be asking us to questions our formal definitions while seducing the ear with the most magical legato.
The Fourth Ballade is the most difficult, interpretatively. It was Sviatoslav Richter who introduced me (via LP) to this enigatic piece that breathes the air of late Chopin. Astonishing, then, that Melda should be able to shoulder the responsibility of interpreting such elusive music, and to emerge notonly unscathed but triumphant. Proof positive she plays way beyond her years.
Chopin's four Ballades all, in their different ways, share a narrational bent. They tell stories: Schumann claimed they were based on tales by Adam Mickiewicz. The album includes all four, as did this live performance in Perivale, which imaginatively included a centrally-placed Liszt Second Ballade:
Melda is a major talent, one to keep an eye on. This is a beautifully presented disc (with cardboard slipcase), and a programme to treasure.