16 August 2021
By Ellie Palmer
This is the pianist's eighth release on the Deutsche Grammophon label. You can stream the album below.
Recorded in October 2020 at Berlin’s historic Meistersaal – Chopin: Complete Nocturnes not only captures the spirit of Chopin’s pianism, but also represents the time and circumstances in which it was made, as Lisiecki himself explains: “I’m the first to question why we should record something that has been recorded many times before. But music only lives through performance and is different every time we hear it, even when it’s a recording.
"I think there was something for me to say with this album. It reflects on the last year and my thoughts on that as well as on the escape and understanding that music gives us.”
It was through the Nocturnes that the Canadian first discovered Chopin – he recalls falling in love with Op.9 No 1 as a child and being enchanted by its yearning melody. The piece, the first of 21 nocturnes the composer wrote between the late 1820s and 1847, offered a glimpse of a vast universe of emotions, expressions, musical gestures and tonal colours. It also prepared the way for the brilliant student to explore the piano’s lyrical side.
It was one thing for the young Jan to play the notes of the simpler Nocturnes, quite another for him to understand their ethos. A turning point came when his teacher asked him to name the three elements of music. Melody and harmony instantly sprang to mind. But the third eluded him. “I thought about it and eventually said ‘line’,” remembers Lisiecki. “Rhythm had completely escaped me! It was the least important thing for me when I was 11 or 12. Since then, of course, I’ve come to appreciate just how vital it is: rhythm serves the melodic line.”
Chopin, he adds, far exceeded the boundaries of what his contemporaries considered possible on the piano, especially in terms of the singing line. Unlike the human voice, the piano can play the longest melody without the need to take a breath; like a singer, the pianist has to shape phrases and give emotional light to melodies. “Chopin’s music flows by itself in a sense, but you need to feel instinctively where things are placed,” he says. “It’s about striking the balance between allowing the music to flow naturally and knowing subconsciously where it should go.”
At 26 years old, the pianist can already count some of the world's best orchestras among his list of collaborations. He's worked with the likes of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Filarmonica della Scala, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for performances at Carnegie Hall and Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. Lisiecki has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Staatskapelle Dresden, Orchestre de Paris, Bavarian Radio Symphony and London Symphony Orchestra.