REVIEW: Elizabeth Sombart — Singing the Nocturnes (LP)
The enduring power of Frederic Chopin’s compositions is all the more impressive in light of his comparatively brief life. Numerous musicians in assorted mediums have tackled the Polish born composers’ oeuvre since his death well over a century ago. Pianist Elizabeth Sombart’s sterling reputation as a musician and interpreter of classical music’s greatest works makes her an ideal candidate for bringing Chopin to modern audiences.
Few musicians can claim her training and background. Sombart, like many virtuosos, began her musical journey at a very early age and centered her studies on piano. She has attended some of finest music conservatories and universities and learned from many five-star luminaries in the piano world. She tackles a handful of Chopin’s pieces over the course of her twenty-one track effort Singing the Nocturnes and makes a strong case for her album being among the year’s best classical releases.
She opens the recording with selections from Chopin’s Opus 9. The first of the three pieces and album opener is in B-Flat Minor, but the remaining two are in major keys. Sombart swings listeners from the slightly ruminative mood of the first performance into the comparatively upbeat demeanor of its successor. The delicate melodicism of “Op. 15 №1 in F Major” develops in a patient and deliberate way without ever coming across as bloodless. Singing the Nocturnes gains a lot from production that invests the playing with a sort of hushed respect and this particular performance illustrates that quite well.
“Op. 37 №1 in G Minor” and “Op. 37 №2 in G Major” provides listeners with an interesting contrast and, for some, will constitute a pivotal point in the recording. It comes at the midway point for Singing the Nocturnes and the latter, in particular, is one of the album’s longer pieces clocking in at over seven minutes. The familiarity of Chopin’s composition may surprise some hardcore music aficionados. You seemingly have heard these melodies, in film, from past musicians, and Sombart’s ability to tap into a recognizable vein whilst still preserving the “newness” of these compositions makes Singing the Nocturnes stand out even more.
The longest piece of the album, “Op. 62 №1 in B Major”, comes near the eight minute mark and begins with a brief colorful flourish. It settles, after that, into the same languid pace marking the Nocturnes overall. These are contemplative pieces, without a doubt, but they are never static. Sombart’s touch with the piano does an exemplary job of bringing out the searching spirit of Chopin’s music.
It’s the latest achievement in the French-born pianists’ journey re-interpreting some of the finest musical compositions in human history. She has dedicated her professional life towards bringing classical music to the disadvantaged and her considerable artistry makes such a mission possible. She brings Fredric Chopin’s gentle and often haunting melodies and compositions to life for modern audiences in a manner that will likely endure for some time to come. It’s as close to as a definitive reading of these works as you will ever hear.