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As for the record labels, complete Chopin sets — reissues by the kilo — have appeared. Deutsche Grammophon's box is impressive and well presented, featuring quality recordings led by Zimerman and Pollini. EMI's is a mixed bag, but contains some rare gems — such as the recordings of Ronald Smith — that will make pianophiles smile. Decca and Hyperion both offer sets of the complete solo piano music with Vladimir Ashkenazy and Garrick Ohlsson respectively.

But there's a limit to the number of recordings and concerts any one music-lover can stomach of the same music during any one year. Every time an anniversary rolls round it's the same: frantic celebration leading to equally frantic fatigue. Shouldn't we have learned from experience?

Maybe it's time for some joined-up thinking. It doesn't look as if many of the venues, record companies and managers involved have been co-ordinating their plans. Indeed, they are more likely to keep them secret. But when there's a significant anniversary, everyone wants to do something-a little co-ordination could be to everyone's advantage. By competing instead of collaborating, record companies shoot themselves in the feet. Most music-lovers only want one complete Chopin set, if they want any, and extreme pianophiles are limited in number. Decca and DG are doing a joint website for the occasion, but they're part of the same team. Why couldn't the bosses of EMI and DG, for example, get together and plan that one would do complete Chopin, while the other would do, for instance, the complete piano and chamber music of Schumann, whose bicentenary is also this year? Wouldn't both benefit, since sales would be less diluted? 

And yet, the degree of 2010's Chopin Fever does prove that this composer means more to us than we might have realised. He is a top favourite for vast swathes of the listening public. His unique language, infused with Polish national dances, shades of Italian opera, Bachian counterpoint and Mozartian balance in almost equal measures, speaks straight to the spirit. In his hands, the piano is more satisfying than an orchestra, an ideal instrument at the service of someone who knows how to bring out its best. 

Without Chopin's influence, moreover, 20th-century French and Russian music would never have sounded as they do: Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Debussy, Fauré and more learned lessons from his works that nobody else could have taught them. 

The diminutive, TB-ridden Chopin may seem an unlikely figure, perhaps, to hold in his hands the seeds of early 20th-century's finest music — but if this anniversary allows us to recognise at last the full importance of his place in the history of Western musical development, then maybe it's worth the overkill.

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Jessica Duchen
April 1st, 2010
7:04 PM
I've been hunting for info on that, but I'm afraid it's proving elusive. My Polish friend Marek provides this: "CD of concert of Chopin's music recorded especially by Karol Radziwonowicz and Orkiestra Sinfonia Viva consisting of students and graduates of the Music Academy in Warsaw. In addition the astronauts took with them a copy of the Prelude No.7 in A major op.28. More details will be revealed when the NASA astronauts come to Poland this May to hand the CD and the scores of the Prelude to the Polish Ministry of Culture." I hope this helps - sorry not to be able to be more specific at present.

Anonymous
March 26th, 2010
3:03 AM
In February, space shuttle Endeavor carried a Chopin CD supposedly recorded by the folks at Frederic Chopin Academy of Music, Poland. What are the pieces in it? thanks.

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