Chopin: Etudes - Rittner

Chopin: Etudes - Rittner

MDG Scene  904 1747-6

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid


Chopin: Etudes Op. 10, Trois nouvelles Etudes, Etudes Op. 25

Hardy Rittner (piano)

Dramatic Demonstration
They are regarded as the height of pianistic virtuosity. On his new release Hardy Rittner impressively demonstrates just what gripping drama and just what poetic magic beyond mere finger dexterity lie in Frédéric Chopin’s études! With sovereign technique and an infallible feel for the finest nuances, Rittner transforms this challenging virtuoso material into a collection of moving and rousing character pieces – and, what is more, in the super audio sound color of an original Graf piano.

Sensational Spectrum
The spectrum extends far and wide: Chopin’s expressive palette ranges from the extroverted drama of the famous “Revolutionary Étude” through the playful lightness of Op. 10/8 to the great polyphonic lament in Op. 25/7. Rittner impressively masters the feared third cascades in Op. 25/6 and does so with fabulously sparkling ease. The neglected “Trois Nouvelles Études” are also highly welcome; with their intricate rhythmic and modulatory depths they experience their long-overdue rehabilitation with their much more famous sister works.

Piano Predilection
Chopin wrote to his family, “I feel the best when I have played to satisfaction on the wonderful Graf piano.” This impressive piano measuring 2.44 m from the Edwin Beunk Collection was built around 1835 in Conrad Graf’s workshop. Even today its dynamic breadth is absolutely incredible. Just listen to the mysterious color produced by the employment of the double moderator pedal in Op. 25 No. 2 and to the contrast formed by the mighty octave cascades in Op. 25/10! And those who would like to hear the instrument with an open lid should definitely tune in to 2+2+2 sound!

Fortunate Find
Hardy Rittner is just as much at home on historical instruments as he is on any modern concert grand piano. This winner of several Echo Klassik prizes regularly creates sensations with his interpretations, whether with his Brahms edition, his Schönberg recording on historical instruments, or, most recently, his recording of the Piano Concerto in D minor by Johannes Brahms on an Erard grand piano.

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Recorded 14-16 November 2011, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmunster
Production: Werner Dabringhaus, Reimund Grimm
Tonmeister: Friedrich Wilhelm Rodding
Reviews (3)

Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 14, 2012

Chopin lovers should not miss this opportunity.

I was at odds with Hardy Rittner’s Brahms project (Brahms, piano concerto no. 1, MDG 904 1699-6). It had nothing to do with his playing. On the contrary. It was the choice of instrument and the somewhat clunky accompaniment. (The argument that Brahms preferred an Erard does not seem altogether correct. After the death of Robert Schumann his wife Clara gave Brahms Robert’s Conrad Graf grand piano, which he then continued to use for his work until 1873).

For his compositions Chopin always used an Ignace Pleyel (as, according to his notes, Rittner does when playing Chopin). But from time to time Chopin also used a Sébastien Érard ‘if and when needed for more power’. He had both instruments in his Paris apartment. That does not mean that he wasn’t familiar with a Graf. When he came, as a 19 year old, to Vienna, both Conrad Graf and his rival Andreas Stein offered him an instrument to use. Chopin chose without hesitation to play on the Graf, like Rittner now has chosen for this recording.

And this time Rittner’s choice is spot on. The one used for this recording has been carefully selected and found in The Netherlands (Conrad Graf 1835 from Edwin Beunk Collection, Enschede, where many well-known forte-piano soloists borrow their instruments for recording purposes). And what a beautiful instrument it is: Warm and dark lows; shiny, silvery trebles and a wonderful sound board. Nice gesture to mention the piano tuner, Mr. Sjoerd Heijda, who came with the grand, I suppose. He certainly did a great job.

Playing Chopin’s etudes is, by definition, not an easy task. Shouldn’t be, of course. It’s hard work. Some believe they are more difficult than the etudes of Franz Liszt in that Chopin does not allow the hands any pause or rest, as is the case with Liszt. Playing them on a period instrument seems even more difficult, because of the smaller keys and the mechanical limitations. On the other hand, Rittner is clearly at home as far as these instruments are concerned. And having attended Paul Badura-Skoda’s master classes, we may assume that he has had the opportunity to play on Badura-Skoda’s Graf from his unique, private collection.

But apart from being difficult, the chosen instrument does have its advantages, as Hardy Rittner explains in his notes. Indeed, Colours and shades become more apparent than on a modern concert grand, and in terms of well-chosen articulation, speed and sheer ‘finger exercise’, Rittner out-shines many a recording on contemporary instruments, leaving the listener almost breathless after an inspired Étude révolutionaire. Not just because of fast passage work. He remains articulate throughout and is able to give it a revolutionary 'con fuoco' soul as Chopin would have done, health permitting,

True, there are other excellent recordings around (though not always with the inclusion of the ‘Trois nouvelles études’ composed in 1839), but with Rittner and this excellent Graf we are in a different world. This is Chopin.

Even if you already have the best on a modern piano, lovers of Chopin will want to have this one, too.

And, yes, the recording is absolutely top notch!

Copyright © 2012 Adrian Quanjer and


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Review by John Broggio - July 19, 2012

Another wonderful disc from Rittner who quite surpasses himself here.

These works as many will be aware are some of the most popular (to audiences at least, teachers may well hold other views!) studies of the piano and each of the Op. 10 & Op. 25 sets contain popular encores of many a pianist. Not short of competition for the two main sets (the 3 nouvelles Etudes are less popular due to their less melodic compositional style), on a modern Steinway one can choose Chopin: Etudes - Kempf on SACD or a bewildering number of the greats on RBCD (Backhaus is my personal favourite).

Rittner can hold his head high with all-comers such is his supreme virtuosity and musicianship. So much is heard apparently effortlessly thanks to his choice of piano which is in great voice. One is reminded completely of the phrase "pearls of music" so pellucid is the tone that Rittner draws from this instrument; never, even at the most furious of occasions, is the sound anything near strident. One principle benefit of using a period piano is that the bass line is clear without drowning out the remainder of the textures (even with judicious use of the pedals, it is something that has caused many players of the modern piano to come momentarily clouded).

Tempo choices are pretty much the ideal - barnstorming studies are played like the wind, will-o-the-wisp pieces flutter by and the more profound numbers are given plenty of room to breathe and reveal their depths. Rittner supplies very perceptive notes on both the instrument and interpreting these works and the points he makes are clearly audible in his playing. Rittner is fast becoming the Brautigam of Romantic repertoire!

Fortunately the MDG recording is fully worthy of gracing such playing and has nothing to quibble about whatsoever.

Outstanding. I cannot recommend this disc highly enough.

Copyright © 2012 John Broggio and


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Review by John Miller - July 21, 2012

Collectors of Chopin's music on disc will have in mind the sound of a modern grand piano. Any suggestion of hearing the Etudes on a period piano would probably conjure images of wooden sounds and broken mechanisms. Hardy Rittner blows away all preconceptions on this MDG disc, using a Viennese Conrad Graf piano from about 1835. Chopin played concerts in Vienna on a similar piano a few years earlier, and praised it roundly, despite his usual preference for pianos made by Pleyel.

The Graf pianos were a big step towards modern-sounding pianos. Built on a heavy solid oak frame, they had a large dynamic range and different tonal characteristics in each of the bass, middle and treble regions, so that pianists could "orchestrate" their pieces. Rittner's 1835 Graf from the Edwin Beunk Collection in the Netherlands also has four pedals: una corda, moderator, double moderator, and forte, which can be used to modify the sound. Rittner discusses these characteristics in his booklet notes, and also mentions that in the course of preparation, he came to truly understand the import of Chopin's pedal notations, as well as the composer's seeming perverse placing of accents in some of the studies.

Both books of Etudes are present, and happily also the three later ones, often known as the Trois Nouvelles Etudes (which concern themselves with cross-rhythms between the hands). These demure pieces are usually placed at the end of a disc of Etudes as if they were afterthoughts, but here their clever placement between the Op.10 and op. 25 sets gives them full status.

Rittner is fearless in taking on the Etudes, which are heroic piano miniatures, whose technical difficulties have often caused even the greatest virtuosi to shy away from their finger-twisting difficulties. Artur Rubenstein, one of the great Chopin specialists, never recorded them. However, Rittner gives us virtuosity in full measure on his wonderful piano. The fast pieces are so clearly articulated and fluent that they take the breath away, and Rittner's control and élan often had me on the edge of my seat. The so-called Revolutionary Etude (Op. 10 no. 12) is a tour de force, with the roiling and boiling arpeggios in the bass far clearer than I have ever heard. Shattering calls to battle in the treble are given with fearsome attack and Rittner's final head-long plunge to the terminal chords is blistering.

Slower, lyrical and poetic etudes are also revelatory. The profound etude in C sharp minor, Op. 25, no. 7 is the longest and slowest of the studies; the lower voice of its duetting endless melody sounds richly cello-like on the Graf. Musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen has pointed out the similarity of this melody with a duet in the opera 'Norma' for cello and soprano, by Bellini, Chopin's friend. Rittner also brings out a wry sense of humour, for example in the genial study in F major (Op. 10, no.8) which is comically rustic, with a comic folk drone underlying whizzing arpeggios and scales.

Given a well-balanced presence in an neutral open acoustic, the Graf piano sounds marvellous, and Rittner yields to none in his pianism, which is mercurial in its original sense of having the characteristics of eloquence, shrewdness and swiftness attributed to the God Mercury. I would add a large measure of communication to those attributes. This is a remarkable recording which reveals Chopin in a new light.

Copyright © 2012 John Miller and


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