Frédéric Chopin Piano Concertos. Margarita Höhenrieder, Orchestra La Scintilla/Orchester Wiener Akademie. © 2023 Solo Musica GmbH


The Authentic Chopin Sound

GERALD FENECH reviews Margarita Höhenrieder's recording of the Chopin piano concertos

'This issue is a truly important addition to the composer's discography ...'


Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) is the pianist and composer par excellence to come out of Poland, although he lived most of his life in Paris. Famous for his many compositions for solo piano, he also composed two exquisite piano concertos that became pillars of the concerto repertoire and continue to captivate audiences to this day.

The First in E minor, Op 11, was written in 1830 when Chopin was twenty years old, and it displays the unmistakeable brilliance of the composer's Romantic style. The piece showcases his virtuosity as a pianist and his ability to infuse profound emotion into his compositions. The concerto is characterized by its lyrical melodies, dramatic flourishes and intricate technical passages, all perfectly balanced within the orchestral framework.

The Second in F minor, Op 21, holds its own unique charm. This concerto was composed in the fallout of 1829, and is in fact the first that Chopin wrote, but this work was published after the Op 11, so what is today considered as the First is in fact the Second, and the Op 21 is actually Chopin's first composition in the genre. The concerto reveals a maturing composer exploring new depths of musical expression. The work radiates a sense of poetic introspection, with its melancholic themes and intimate piano passages. It seamlessly weaves together tender lyricism and grand virtuosic displays, offering a delicate balance between introspection and brilliance.

Both concertos exemplify Chopin's mastery in writing for the piano, combining technical dexterity with heartfelt tenderness.

Now for this splendidly historic issue of these works. For years, Margarita Höhenrieder was searching for the authentic sound of Chopin's piano works. Which instrument of its time most convincingly reflected Chopin's music? Chopin himself had given the answer in 1831: 'Pleyel's instruments are the non plus ultra!' The choice for the recording therefore fell on a Pleyel fortepiano, built in 1848 in Paris, and expertly restored using historical materials and methods. It is absolutely identical in construction to the instrument that Chopin owned, and thus represents an authentic sound testimony.

Listen — Chopin: Allegro maestoso (Piano Concerto Op 11 in E minor)
(SM 425 track 1, 3:55-4:40) ℗ 2023 Solo Musica GmbH :

For acoustic reasons of the sound of the original instruments, the Oberstrass Church in Zürich (First Piano Concerto) and the Vienna Musikverein (Second Piano Concerto) were chosen as recording venues. Orchestra La Scintilla conducted by Riccardo Minasi and Orchester Wiener Akademie conducted by Martin Haselböck also played on historical instruments. In each case we hear the historical versions edited by Jan Ekier.

Listen — Chopin: Larghetto (Piano Concerto Op 21 in F minor)
(SM 425 track 5, 4:48-5:32) ℗ 2023 Solo Musica GmbH :

Margarita Höhenrieder is an avidly passionate advocate of the cause, and her interpretations are not only lyrically arresting and melodically enticing, but her careful recreation of the authentic Chopin sound gives the listener highly interesting insights into music history. Understandably, Margarita Höhenrieder has some very stiff competition, particularly from legendary soloists such as Maurizio Pollini, Rudolf Serkin and Arthur Rubinstein among others, but whatever the case, I would go for this marvellous disc every time, if only for the reason that Höhenrieder has given us the chance to experience the exact sound that audiences at the premieres were able to hear more than a hundred and ninety years ago. If you are under the impression that you have become accustomed to the Chopin sound, think again.

Listen — Chopin: Rondo. Vivace (Piano Concerto Op 11 in E minor)
(SM 425 track 3, 0:00-0:47) ℗ 2023 Solo Musica GmbH :

This issue is a truly important addition to the composer's discography, if only for the reason that the listener now has a golden opportunity to experience the authentic sound world that Chopin and his audiences went through in the premieres of 1830.

Listen — Chopin: Allegro vivace (Piano Concerto Op 21 in F minor)
(SM 425 track 6, 8:01-8:54) ℗ 2023 Solo Musica GmbH :

Sound, booklet notes and presentation are top notch. This is a must for all piano buffs, especially the composer's admirers and those who love ethereal music making.

Copyright © 23 November 2023 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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