New Chopin recordings are likely to proliferate in the lead-up to next year's bicentenary, and few are likely to be more thoughtfully planned than Maria João Pires's. These discs concentrate on the music Chopin composed in the last five years of his life, including the B minor Piano Sonata, the F minor Mazurka Op 68 no 4, nocturnes, waltzes, the great Polonaise-Fantasie and the Cello Sonata. But Pires makes it clear that this is not, as she says, a "systematic traversal" but instead "a sort of stroll through this late period". Much of the playing is very fine - at her best she is one of the most compelling pianists around today - but these performances are uneven. Best of all is the B minor Sonata with which she begins her stroll. It's a bold, big-boned performance that rather dismisses the scherzo, but presents the slow movement in epic terms. The other large-scale works - a carefully paced Polonaise-Fantasie, and a finely communicative account with Pavel Gomziakov of the cello work - are successful, too. The miniatures, though, seem far less poised, either undercharacterised (the mazurkas especially) or lacking in the weightless elegance that sustains the nocturnes. Yet the exceptional quality of this music is never devalued.
Classical review: Chopin: Piano Sonata in B minor; Cello Sonata; etc, Gomziakov/Pires