Label: Mercury Classics/ Universal Music
02. Piano Sonata No. 3: Largo
03. Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor (feat. Mari Samuelsen)
05. Nocturne in G Minor
06. Eyes Shut / Nocturne in C Minor
07. Written in Stone
08. Letters of a Traveller
09. Prélude in D-Flat Major ‘Raindrop’
10. Étude in E Minor (feat. Rubin Kodheli)
NBHAP Rating: 3,3/5
Setting it straight
I will start with a confession straight away: this is review number two I’ve written on this LP. I must also confess that the first one was angry, condemning and full of personal complaints of the reworking of the improvised archetypal old, in the ‘down with the kids’, pseudo-contemporary side-glances of the Deutsche Grammophon roster. My editor-in-chief told me to relax, listen to it again and calm myself down. So did ÓLAFUR ARNALDS & ALICE SARA OTT – two genuinely charming musicians who appear, quite simply, to love the music of Frédéric Chopin. Perhaps I took it a bit far? Perhaps it’s time to move the start-line, reload the starting pistol and open up to their idea. Yes, you too.
The beauty of heaviness
The Chopin Project‘s press release is mis-leading – citing ‘revolution’ as the primary intention of this new-scored re-orchestration of Chopin’s themes, set to a backdrop of vintage microphones aimed at the more unusual aspects of such recordings – i.e. the sound of humans making music. ARNALDS talked of miking OTT‘s face to hear her grunts, and her piano-stool to hear her clawing into the ivories, rather than predictably mic’ing the strings and shielding the listener from the inevitable grunge of such heavy music. I hope that one can remember the shock that sex was wet, and full of smell and sensation having previously only witnessed the sterile, apparently perfect on-screen form that can so easily be thought of as real. This record is arguably a response to sterility, and was an urge to prove that we adore the humanity of music and sex, more than the impersonated action of either.
The soul of Chopin
The Chopin Project itself isn’t challenging aurally, if one were to continue the metaphor of physical contact, this would be both an experienced yet somewhat frigid lover – perhaps unawares that their partner or audience can receive more abuses or dirt than we are ever given the chance to agree to. The strings do not need to be that tempered, and the ferocious outpouring of Chopin’s soul should never succumb to the tamed diaphragm of a vintage microphone. But frankly Chopin’s soul might flinch harder at the constant, humourless, human-less interpretations of his vital music by every other concert virtuoso, and would perhaps take great pleasure in hearing ALICE‘s breath in his ears instead. This is not a revolutionary listen – but since ÓLAFUR ARNALDS‘s real want was for humanity, it succeeds fully in that regard.
ÓLAFUR ARNALDS’ & ALICE SARA OTT’s re-interpretation of Frédéric Chopin’s music might not be revolutionary but it’s a raw and emotional new take on the classical pieces.