Eliane Rodrigues: Notturno
Navona Records

One less listens to Eliane Rodrigues' playing than luxuriates in it. On this exemplary two-CD collection, the pianist executes with seemingly effortless command twenty-one nocturnes and two ballades (the first and fourth) by Chopin, and her eloquent renderings of the Polish composer's material wholly dissolve the separation that all musicians aspire to achieve between composer and interpreter. Playing a Fazioli concert grand F278 at the Fazioli Concert Hall in Sacile, this remarkable conduit enables the listener to forge an immediate connection to these deep mood pieces.

No one, it would appear, is better equipped to play Chopin than Rodrigues. The Rio de Janeiro-born child prodigy was performing with an orchestra by the age of six and in the years following won prizes in regional and national competitions. Currently a professor at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, Rodrigues lives in Rotterdam where she gives an annual Chopin recital the day after Christmas. Complementary to this recording is a discography boasting more than twenty-five releases, including Prokofiev's five concertos and all of Beethoven's.

Rodrigues' nuanced playing amplifies the sensuous quality of Chopin's material, but that's hardly the only aspect that recommends the performances. Her modulations of tempo and dynamics are exquisitely handled; elegant arcs, runs, and trills abound, and the degree of control exemplified by her playing is magnificent; patterns regularly segue from slow to fast and from soft to loud but always, in her hands, gracefully. Marked differences in mood distinguish one from another, the seventh, for instance, being noticeably darker in moments than the gently rapturous ninth; such characterizations risk misrepresenting the material, however, when many a nocturne encompasses a number of moods, with everything from joyful to sombre episodes emerging during a setting. With no denigration intended, there are moments that liken the nocturnes to salon music (the fifth or sixteenth, for example), which is more a comment on the emotional directness of the material than anything else. Of course, being nocturnes, they're largely delicate and dreamy, and consequently it's easy for the listener to be seduced by their many charms.

Sequenced last on the CDs, the ballades are also the recording's longest settings at ten and eleven minutes, as well as the most technically dazzling of the twenty-three performances (look no further than the first's coda as proof). Still, as impressive as the ballades are, it's her sensitive presentation of the softer material that leaves the strongest mark; among the memorable pieces are the quietly reverential eleventh, haunting twentieth, and liltingly lyrical twelfth. On the release package's inner sleeve, Rodrigues states, “Chopin is like a dear friend of mind. When I was very young, I started playing his Waltzes and Mazurkas, and I immediately felt this connection.” Don't be surprised if you feel something similar as you listen to this wonderful collection.

November 2017