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Nocturne in A flat major, Op 129

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Nikolai Demidenko live at Wigmore Hall
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Nocturne in A flat major, Op 129
Dedicatee of Chopin’s E minor Concerto, the teacher of Marie Pleyel and Charles Hallé, admirer of Clementi, Field and Hummel, the German Friedrich Kalkbrenner was a man esteemed by the early Romantics but not universally liked. Of him Chopin said (Paris, 12 December 1831):

If Paganini is perfection, Kalkbrenner is his equal, but in quite another style. It is hard to describe to you his calm, his enchanting touch, his incomparable evenness, and the mastery that is displayed in every note; he is a giant, walking over Herz and Czerny and all – and over me … You must know that Kalkbrenner’s person is as much hated here as his talent is respected by all and sundry; he does not make friends with every fool, and … he is superior to everything that I have heard.

Tripartite in form, with a more harmonically agitated middle section and coda, the Nocturne in A flat major (before 1837) is an atmospheric period piece, evoking the sound and imagery of an aeolian harp, an outdoor gut-stringed contraption (popular with Romantic landscape gardeners) set into vibration by wind currents (Aeolus was the ancient keeper of the winds), with an unfocused sound like that ‘heard from telegraph wires, but with the added resonance of a hollow sounding-board, and the added complexity of a distinct chordal suggestion’ (Scholes). (Curiously – coincidentally? – Chopin’s own allusions to the instrument [the opening Study from Op 25, the Introduction of the Polonaise-Fantasy] are also in A flat.)

from notes by Ates Orga © 1998

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