Alessandro Deljavan - Chopin Complete Études

It may be that the Italian pianist Alessandro Deljavan is destined for a controversial career. He is a highly demonstrative player whose incessant movements and exaggerated, protean facial expressions make Lang Lang seem a model of restrained immobility. Moreover, Deljavan adamantly maintains that curbing his extramusical mannerisms would impede his response to the music.

Fortunately he has already made a number of recordings that allow listeners to bypass visual distractions and focus on the piano-playing, and in his latest offering, Chopin’s 27 Etudes, his musical and pianistic personality is displayed in high relief. Deljavan is first and foremost a lyrical player. For him, the phrase is paramount, an excellent attribute in a Chopin player. His imagination is vivid, though sometimes it leads him into a stylistic no man’s land, where details are worried to death and the forest is lost for the trees.

The exquisite E major Etude (Op 10 No 3) maintains a persuasive lyrical calm, followed by a C sharp minor (No 4) that is furious, galvanised and exciting. The sprightly energy of ‘Black Keys’ (No 5) seems particularly apt, and the ‘Revolutionary’ (No 12) roils without becoming overblown. The sustained cantabile of the ‘Cello’ Etude (Op 25 No 7) rises to poignant eloquence.

Yet there are moments when one wishes Deljavan would forsake his quest for a personal statement and play it straight, allowing Chopin to speak for himself. Overly lavish rubato reduces the quirkily dissonant E minor (Op 25 No 5) to sentimental salon fare, while a reflexive tenuto applied to the first note of left-hand phrases in the ‘Thirds’ Etude (No 6) grows tiresome. Unbridled tempo fluctuations rob the F minor (Op 10 No 9) of momentum and a good bit of character.

In these days of multivalent cosmopolitan pianism seemingly free of technical limitations, it is probably impossible for any pianist to stake territorial claim on the Chopin Etudes the way Wilhelm Backhaus could in the 1920s, or Maurizio Pollini in the 1960s. But if Deljavan’s Etudes are far from the last word, they are original, occasionally provocative and often compelling.