Album review: The Chopin Project

By William Dart

The Chopin Project.
The Chopin Project.

Those familiar with the Deutsche Grammophon recordings of Alice Sara Ott may wonder what she is doing in tandem with Icelandic New Age merchant Olafur Arnalds on The Chopin Project.

A three-minute promotional video, in which she whirs a Rubik's Cube while Arnalds spouts silliness about the Polish composer, may warn the wary from venturing further.

Those who make it to the actual album will need to steel themselves for four pages of the man's booklet essay, obsessed with the idea of classical music escaping from the "unbreakable norm" of an "accurate and true" recording. And what's wrong with that, some will ask.

We learn of his being rescued from a childhood love of punk and heavy metal by a Chopin-loving grandmother, listening to one of the composer's sonatas on the good woman's deathbed - presumably the B flat minor work, of funeral march fame.

All these years later, Arnalds' Chopin Project is irredeemably funereal, complemented by the mushy twilight-grey photography throughout the booklet.

Ott's three solo spots consist of two Nocturnes, both in the minor, and a closing Raindrop Prelude, its D flat major bursting forth like a blaze of sunlight after six months of Nordic winter. Alas, the Chopin of the livelier waltzes, polonaises, scherzos and mazurkas is nowhere to be heard.

The truly asinine idea of subjecting Ott's G minor Nocturne to what sounds like a field recording, with the noises and chatter of everyday life in the background, is surely the stuff of nightmares for genuine classical music lovers.

The real curiosity of the collection, Nathan Milstein's transcription of the C sharp minor Nocturne, is grudgingly acknowledged, exposing the stray string touching of Norwegian violinist Mari Samuelsen when the pianist, for some reason, takes a smoko.

Arnalds' own "compositions", with titles like Verses, Reminiscence and Eyes Shut are soporific on a health-endangering level.

Heavily dependent on Chopin for their thematic content, they enlist a string quintet alongside the Icelander's synthesizer for the saddest and sorriest wake imaginable.

The Chopin Project, (Mercury)
Verdict: Music to either fall asleep to or get very, very cross about.

- NZ Herald

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