David Saperton, Piano: Chopin, Complete Etudes and Godowsky, 11 Studies on the Chopin Etudes

David Saperton CD

This recording is a glimpse into piano playing's past, one filled with keyboard giants, redwood trees, not the puny, the indistinguishable, the faceless drones of today's mechanized generation that churns out pianists from the assembly line. Saperton's name deserves a place among the most celebrated legends of the pastRachmaninoff, Cortot, Rosenthal, Friedman, Hofmann, Lhevinnethose, in short, who "knew no difficulties."

And unlike most other greats (I would give anything to hear one of Rachmaninoff's etudes), Saperton has given us a complete set of Chopin's pianistic bible, one unparalleled in elegance, clarity, freedom of rubato, pure pianism. It may not always have the depth and devil-may-care romantic abandonment of Cortot's set, but Saperton's phrasing, voicing, pedaling, clarity, and lightness are from another world entirely, Cortot takes us to the limits of
human experiences, telling of military conquests, forbidden amorous encounters, midnight rides, but Saperton transcends, elevating our senses to where live the sprites and will-o'-the-wisps, into the ethereal mists, beyond the turmoil and bloodshed of a fallen race. This is the beauty of sound itself. If the gods could breathe music into our ears while we sleep, they would chant such sounds.

What a tragedy that Saperton has left us only this one record of his genius! He had recorded all 53 Godowsky studies on the Chopin etudes, many of which were lost in the melting-down for the war effort. Each one of the 11 on this disc is a marvel in polyphonic playing, a transcendental realization of Godowsky's wayward salon harmonies. Listen especially to the otherworldly flight of Saperton's fingers in the "Ignis Fatuus" based on the chromatic etude, or the recrafting of the melody in the second
nouvelle étude, played with a trailing rubato into a smorzando.

And as for the etudes themselves, we have never, and it almost goes without saying, will never, hear the like of this technique againnot in performance, not on recording, nowhere. Even Lhevinne and Friedman would have had to bow their heads in awe at Saperton's double thirdsthe precision of touch, the suppleness, the dynamic contrasts (note the double passage in descending lateral motion thirds). Cortot's comment about the importance of the French jeux perlé in the black key etude is realized by Saperton's pearly touch. The Winter Wind etude bites and hisses (with a climactic double-octave return to the main theme), having more fire than Lhevinne's more orchestral rendering. The "Revolutionary," pallid and hackneyed in the hands of a Perahia, crude when pounded out by a hairy caveman like Gavrilov, becomes a perfect blend of dexterity and passion with Saperton, whose left hand is played with the charging energy of cavalry sharply contrasted against the cries of the multitude in the treble.

Chopin would have liked Saperton, and the misanthropic Pole didn't like much. Listen, and you'll hear elegance at its highest level, the way Chopin was meant to be played. Saperton cannot be overlooked by anyone who claims knowledge about the piano. The day will come, whether in this life or the next, when he is crowned with laurels for his achievements.

Joe's Grade: A

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