The fourth part of my “A Tempo Project” is published: Frédéric Chopin’s 12 Etudes Opus 10. The masterpiece is part of the repertoire of many pianists. Likewise, the question of tempi for the 12 enchanting pieces has been the subject of long debates: the metronome markings given by Chopin himself are sometimes so fast that they were already questioned in the second half of the 19th century. Words like “music box effects” were coined to characterize the furious speed. And: pianists like Theodor Kullak and Hans von Bülow recommended to moderate the tempo.
My approach of halving Chopin’s metronome numbers may seem radical. But the option to do so shows in the historical context, and above all, it brings to light an interpretation that “works” and that, behind the bravura, suddenly reveals an unheard-of intimacy, depth, and an immense power.
The recording venue is the Herkulessaal at the Munich Residenz – coincidentally, the same hall where Maurizio Pollini made his famous recording of the Etudes in 1972.
In addition to the music, “Chopin A Tempo” includes German and English introductions and a three-part series on historical metronome numbers and tempo. The album is published on YouTube as well as CD/DVD.
Historische Metronomzahlen und Tempo – eine Einführung
Historical Metronome Markings – A Short Introduction
Throughout all the virtuoso cascades, a slower approach suddenly brings to light many nuanced colors and spaces. Instead of scurrying, there is suddenly fine dabbing. Accompaniment figures and arcs of suspension become clearer, and no detail is simply swept over. Bernhard Ruchti’s never academic sounding philosophy places these etudes rather in the realm of poetic character pieces. Thinking instead of racing with the gain of an enormous richness of articulation. An exciting, thrilling, new Chopin listening experience.
Martin Preisser (St. Galler Tagblatt)