If one polarizes different approaches to performing Chopin’s Nocturnes, with Artur Rubinstein’s elegance as one ideal and the intense dramatic undercurrents of Maria João Pires as another, Bernard d’Ascoli’s approach sits firmly at Pires’s end of the spectrum. His are deeply probing, exploratory, at times unsettling performances, yet they undoubtedly carry an underlying authority and conviction that is persuasive even – perhaps especially – when they challenge preconceived notions. D’Ascoli prefers a full-bodied gutsy sonority to a more obvious caressing beauty, and his approach can be dangerously brusque or volatile. In some Nocturnes – the famous E flat major, Op.9 no. 2, for example, which is hardly ‘espressivo’ or dolce’ – he shuns surface seductiveness and tonal nuance, yet he retains an imperious sense of line and his direct style of playing is compelling.
Overall, d’Ascoli’s bold playing is better suited to the more complex, later Nocturnes (his limited range of pianissimo is an issue in some of the earlier ones) and Chopin’s two Op. 48 Nocturnes in particular are outstanding. D’Ascoli’s rubato – often intense, sometimes counterintuitive – lies at the heart of his music-making, and makes his Chopin alive and self-renewing.
Performance **** Sound ****
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