Album Review: Chronological Chopin – Ballades – Preludes – Scherzi: Burkard Schliessmann

February 2, 2016 Updated: February 4, 2016

A more traditional choice of music than usual from the eclectic Divine Art label, this three CD set nevertheless positions itself with their more ambitious catalogue due to its sheer volume and limited subject matter.

Performed by the German pianist Schliessmann, well known for his Romantic playing style and a self-confessed devotee of Chopin, it is clear this is a homage to the composer. Schliessman is clearly in his element, in particular with the nods back to J. S. Bach, harking back to another of his recent recordings. 

More interestingly most of the pieces he’s chosen in his ‘through Chopin’s life’ type theme are all examples of Chopin taking an established style and completely turning it on its head. The Preludes are an obvious example and it’s pleasing to see the oft omitted, but fascinating op.45 included. However the Scherzi too reflect this type, their content being emotional, lyrical and sometimes volatile but never much of a ‘joke’. Similarly the Mazurkas, for years falsely believed to be directly derived from Polish folk music, are completely of Chopin’s own creation and are even now considered to be of a unique genre sometimes known as the “Chopin genre”. 

This juxtaposition with the conscious choice Schliessman takes, to tone down the romanticism of the performance and highlight the Classical genre Chopin was so influenced by, makes for an interesting listen. For many Chopin is a Romantic composer yet suddenly the influence of Schubert and Beethoven shine clearly through. Most of all you can hear the legacy of Bach both in the forms and in the constant fugue-style movement of much of the music. 

The final sound produced is the slight fly in the ointment, which lets down the overall recording. Despite use of the Steinway to record, and clear skill of Schliessman, the producers have somehow managed to introduce a slightly muffled sound that lends itself ill to Chopin’s pianistic vitality. Plus, though less fitting with this concept, it’s still sad not to see any of the exquisite Nocturnes or Polonaises on a recording of Chopin piano music. 

Not a compilation for the faint hearted, the three CDs clock in at nearly an hour each. It takes dedication to get through it and there are equally well played but more easily accessible Chopin recordings. Yet no one can deny both the beauty and the well placed interpretation of the performance, and as a clever ‘biography in music’ of a great composer there’s little fault to find. 

4 out of 5 stars