Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy has gradually built a distinguished catalogue of recordings over the years on Brilliant Classics, and each new release from this German pianist tends to be welcomed in effusive terms by the international press. His accounts of Chopin have met with particular praise. A 2CD set of the Ballades, Impromptus and Preludes (BC95210) was celebrated by Classics Today as achieving ‘a fusion of impassioned ardour and classical textual rigour… the best of Schmitt‐Leonardy’s Chopin adds up to a stimulating and compelling listening journey well worth travelling, even if you’ve heard these works hundreds of times.’
Individual discs of Mendelssohn (BC93975), Schumann (BC93136) and Brahms (BC92512) have likewise attracted admiring comments. According to Gramophone, ‘Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy’s superb technical and musical command holds unflagging interest throughout the [Brahms] variation sets, which easily hold their own among the top versions available.’
With these new recordings, made in 2011 and 2015, Schmitt-Leonardy returns to Chopin, and to ‘his wildest children’ according to Schumann: a comment which has been much parsed for its implications of structural incoherence as well as indomitable passion. In truth, Chopin’s struggle with the larger, multi-movement form has by no means failed, but rather resulted in a more accurate and elaborated mosaic of interrelations, coherencies and references, which cannot be discerned by casual listening or glancing at the scores. Chopin’s ability to balance these elements comes from neatly hidden formal concessions and the use of several compositional tools found in the music of Bach; combined, these aspects award Chopin’s sonatas continuity.
Even if the First Sonata is the work of a student, it nonetheless demonstrates some of those Bachian connections and a lyric poise which would come to full bloom in the Second. This work is centred around the grave Funeral March which has become perhaps Chopin’s best-known individual piece. Bachian principles of counterpoint and polyphony are even more richly satisfied by the final sonata of the trilogy, at least until the grand and sweeping passion of its concluding Rondo.
This new recording presents the three Piano Sonatas by Frédéric Chopin, large-scale works by a composer by was primarily a master of the small form, the Nocturne, Ballade, Prelude, Mazurka or Impromptu.
Chopin’s first Sonata is from his youth, an ambitious work in semi-classical style but already bearing Chopin’s characteristics in its lyricism and freedom. The second Piano Sonata is the most famous, including the iconic Funeral March, a passionate 4-movement work of staggering originality. The third Sonata is the most forward-looking in its intense chromatism and advanced harmony.
Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy is one of Germany’s foremost pianists. Next to his active career he made some excellent recordings for Brilliant Classics, notably the complete Brahms Variations, 2 Schumann CD’s and several Chopin recordings, which were highly praised in the international press, Jed Distler wrote on Classicstoday.com: : “he achieves a fusion of impassioned ardor and classical textual rigor… the best of Schmitt-Leonardy’s Chopin adds up to a stimulating and compelling listening journey well worth traveling, even if you’ve heard these works hundreds of times”.