Cédric Tiberghien’s earlier Chopin recordings sometimes teetered over that fragile line between personalized poetry and contrived mannerism. In the Op 28 Preludes, however, the pianist and the composer mostly merge as one. Numerous details impart a fresh spin on thrice-familiar ground.
Tiberghien’s long ritardando in Prelude No 5, for example, underlines the harmonic tension resulting from Chopin’s cross-rhythmic writing. Many pianists generically pause at phrase ends in No 7, but Tiberghien’s hushed, understated way of doing so proves quite evocative. By contrast, No 8 vividly fuses bravado and textural clarity. In No 10 Tiberghien takes the trouble to make the contrast between the right-hand dotted note and the left-hand 16th-note rest audibly distinct on the chord in the first beat of measure four and similar places—an overly technical observation, yet it also reminds us how striking or unusual-sounding interpretive gestures are borne out by the score.
Unlike pianists who mechanically prattle off No 14, Tiberghien’s unpredictable phrase shaping and sudden quiet ending keeps you guessing. The tumultuous No 16 begins promisingly, yet slightly slows down en route. Tiberghien plows through No 18’s declamatory unison phrases like a horse with blinders on, but leans a bit too heavily on No 19’s rotary figurations (these are more difficult to execute than they sound). The final Preludes also stand out, especially in No 21, where Tiberghien runs the emotional gamut, evoking memories of Alfred Cortot in his prime.
While Tiberghien’s B flat minor sonata has points of interest (the Funeral March movement’s fluent reserve, for example), his stretching the first movement’s second subject to the breaking point dissipates the music’s forward moving urgency in the manner of Nelson Freire or Evgeny Kissin, among top modern-day versions. The enigmatic finale is appropriately sotto voce and smartly phrased yet a little dry, whereas Marc-André Hamelin’s competitive Hyperion version makes far more imaginative use of the pedal.
Tiberghien gives a strong character and profile to the B flat minor Scherzo opening theme’s basic elements: the upward introductory motive, the big chords, and the sudden accents followed by silences. The second theme, however, lacks long-lined lyricism, while the Trio section seems perfunctory compared to the songful tenderness of Rubinstein’s great stereo 1959 recording, or, more recently, the version by Hyperion’s own Stephen Hough.
My rating primarily concerns the Preludes, which are well worth the cost of this disc. Indeed, Tiberghien’s Op 28 thoroughly holds its own alongside readings by other like-minded individualists like Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Brilliant Classics), Alexandre Tharaud (Harmonia Mundi), Christian Budu (Claves), Andrew Tyson (Zig-Zag Territories), and Cyprien Katsaris (Sony), not to mention our reference versions.