Let me share with you a little experiment I conducted that turned me on to the subject of this episode of Radio Chopin.
Chopin’s Nocturne in A-flat opens with a self-contained statement which is repeated at the end. I listened to it three times in a row played three different pianists: Evgeny Kissin; Artur Rubinstein; and Maria João Pires.
Curious thing about Portuguese pianist Pires' version - she stretches that opening statement out longer than any of the others, but her performance is a full minute shorter than the others’. She lingers and pushes in all the right places, one mark of an ideal Chopinist. But don’t take it from me, take it from this 2007 review in London’s The Times:
“I can’t think of a pianist with a more ideal command of Chopin’s style. Pires trips through the roulades with filigree dexterity, but her tone is so thoughtful, serious and weighty that they arrive with immense emotional profundity.” Slightly less eloquent, but equally passionate is this comment from a listener review at amazon.com: “Maestra! Bravissima!!”
Long story short, if you’re a fan of Chopin’s Nocturnes, keep Maria João Pires in mind as a go-to Chopinist—so much so, Gramophone magazine crowned her recording of Chopin’s Nocturnes the “best version available,” to which reviewer Bryce Morrison added: "I have no hesitation in declaring Maria Joao Pires – a pianist without a trace of narcissism – among the most eloquent master-musicians of our time." - Jennifer Foster