Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Stab At A Classical Album Review: One Of My Favorites: Chopin's Greatest Hits!

The Good: Excellent Selection, Wonderful Music, Good Recording, Length
The Bad: ? None, that come to mind
The Basics: An essential classical album arranged by people with an ear for flow and a clear knowledge of the quality and grandeur of Chopin, Chopin's Greatest Hits holds up!

Quite some time ago, a close personal friend decided it was time to terminate our friendship. Ouch. That always sucks. Her reasoning, in part, came from a review of mine that she refused to read. My friend is a wonderful singer/songwriter and her band's debut album came out and I reviewed it. It was a glowing review. Crushed by some criticism she had received, she flat out refused to read my review, which was too bad, because it was HIGHLY complimentary, and I wasn't being flattering. To this day, I still have the album and listen to it regularly. Bummer about the friend.

A large part of my friend's reasoning was the misconception that I couldn't evaluate music. She was convinced, because I vocally speak of my excitement for Heather Nova, Sophie B. Hawkins, Oasis, and Matchbox Twenty, that I had no appreciation for the greats of music. Ironically, she was the one who introduced me to the music of Dar Williams (whom I love, see my reviews of The Honesty Room and Out There Live) and Tidal by Fiona Apple. Her rather poor assumption was that because I never spoke of my full appreciation of the diversity of music, I had none.

She was wrong. I was raised listening to classical music, NPR, 80s pop-rock, 60s folk and a HUGE array of other music. The problem is, I was too young for most of the classical music to know who was playing. So, here, at the beginning of my review, I will confess this to all of you: I can't cite most classical composers based on a few bars, I don't know the historical movements in music that various artists combated in their works, and I don't know the life history of most composers. That said, I like a LOT of classical music and I know what I like.

So far, the classical album I've been so enchanted with that it has been in my collection for over a decade is Chopin's Greatest Hits. Since elementary school, I've loved the music of Chopin and this album captures all the truly great music of the master. Despite the silly sketch of Chopin on the front of the c.d. and the sticker advertising the series of Greatest Hits albums (No, Yo-Yo Ma, despite what the sticker says, is not on THIS c.d., though he appears on some album in Sony's Greatest Hits classical collection), this is the top notch of classical music.

Chopin wrote piano music. A lot of his music uses soaring scales and deep, somber chords. As strange as it is to say, despite the heavy roar of some of his chords and notes on his early pieces on this album (Like the "Military" Polonaise in A Major that opens), this album eased away a headache of mine today.

What is exceptional about this album is that it was assembled by someone who knew what they were doing. Listening to the album is like taking a journey; the songs flow naturally together, almost like a story reaching peaks and valleys, turning points and actions. That is to say, the songs on the album weren't put in chronological or order by "type" they were put together in an order that flowed very naturally, very organically from one place to another. The overall sense of the album is moving gently from episode to episode. Never is the album tired, lulling the listener to sleep, never is it putting a soft, sensual piece adjacent to a rollicking, thunderous one. There is no abrupt sense between the tracks, like one moment you're in peace and then the next you're facing an army attacking. That's a problem with some classical albums. I listened to a Tchaikowsky album where it had the problem that the two pieces on it were so discongruous as to be shocking and troublesome.

Chopin's Greatest Hits are not like that. The music sensual ("Fantasie-Impromptu In C-sharp minor, Op. 66") to grand ("Polonaise In A-Flat Major, Op. 53") to somber ("Funeral March" from Piano Sonata No. 2). Yup, Chopin is the guy who wrote the classical funeral march. Didn't know that? Now you do. "Polonaise In A-Flat Major, Op. 53" was one of the prime reasons I bought this album; I love that piece. It is passionate, impressive, like a themesong for an arrogant emperor for making entrances. There is the sense when listening to it that you are in the presence of someone grand. And you are.

If you're intimidated by classical music, this is a great album to start out with. It sounds good. It IS the best of Chopin. It's the best of classical music because it is original, inspired and presented perfectly. Don't let the names of the songs intimidate you; they're not catchy. What they are, however, is great. If you don't own a classical album, pick this one up; it's worth it.

(And if you're interested in a wonderful small band with a kick-ass vocalist fronting it, keep an eye out for my review of Abby by The Jubilant Dogs. The friendship I had with a member of the band might be over, but the album still deserves a lot of praise and exposure!)

For other orchestral works I've reviewed, please click here to read my review of The Last Of The Mohicans Soundtrack!


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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