There are some players who find themselves too intimidated by a composer to ever take on the challenge of interpreting their work, and among the greatest to ever compose, Chopin has such a body of work. Over the years, many artists have explored the collective works of Chopin only to find themselves regretting they ever did so, leaving scores of players feeling uncomfortable at the very idea of entering such uncertain territory – Elizabeth Sombart, however, is not one of these players.
In her new album Singing the Nocturnes, she presents the Nocturnes through the simplistic lens of one piano and one woman, as I believe this music was always meant to be enjoyed, and without leaving her fans wondering what she’s going to do next, she disembarks from the conventional path and finds her way into the dark, murky melodicism of what could be my favorite songbook of all time. Emotion is at the forefront of almost everything we hear in Singing the Nocturnes, from “Op. 27” to “Op. 28,” but missing from this record is the very notion of self-indulgence or anti-establishment classical theory.
Tonality does as much as the rhythm does to shape the “Op. 32 No. 1-9 in B Major,” “Op. 62,” and “Op. 72 No. 1-19,” but I would stop short of saying that the piano seems like too grand a communicator for these particular performances. Rarely is there a moment in Singing the Nocturnes in which anything we’re hearing sounds too liberally applied for the setting; to me, Sombart has one of the most efficient hands in the genre right now, and her directness is one of the core elements that made me appreciate this album more than anything else.
Her keys reflect a sense of melancholy in the posthumous “No. 20 in C-Sharp Minor” that nothing else could have produced, no matter how well-organized within the arrangement, and I would even go so far as to say that this material being devoid of lyricism in the traditional capacity is what makes expressing the mood so easy for Sombart. She’s able to put all of her soul into this piano, conveying things to the audience that one could never do with mere words and harmonies on their own.
Singing the Nocturnes is a fantastic album and an even better exhibition of talents if you ask me, and although there are a lot of compelling classical works coming out at the moment, this is probably the first independent release of 2022 to grab my attention by the horns. It’s a truly fitting sequel to 21 Nocturnes, and probably the most thorough examination of Chopin’s best work that I’ve had the pleasure of examining over the past year, aside from symphonic adaptations that honestly belong in a different category than anything Elizabeth Sombart is recording.
She’s in a league of her own right now, and if you’re curious what all of the fuss being made over her music is, I would recommend sitting down with Singing the Nocturnes as soon as possible.
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