Chris McGovern
September 8, 2012

CD Review: Edward Auer/Shanghai Quartet, Chopin: The Two Piano Concertos

This new CD features Chopin’s Concerto in F minor, op. 21 (world premiere recording of Auer’s arrangement) and Concerto in E minor, op. 11, as performed by Edward Auer, piano, with the Shanghai String Quartet. The surname Auer is not new to the classical music world, due to the presence of famed violinist and teacher Leopold Auer. The artist represented on this new disc, Edward Auer (no relation presumed), is a pianist, now in his early seventies (born 1941). He is Professor of Piano at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and was born in New York City and grew up in Los Angeles. He made a name for himself by winning the International Chopin Piano Competition in 1965 – the first American to do so, and has had an illustrious career.

Chopin performers of the past whose recordings I have held in high regard include Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Jorge Bolet, Vladimir Horowitz, Murray Perahia, and especially Artur Rubinstein. Of course any of these artists recording Chopin concertos versions used orchestral accompaniment, while Auer uses the more intimate string quartet. The practice of playing the concertos with string quartet has historical precedent, states Mr. Auer in the booklet accompanying the CD. He also points to several differences (not only sonically, but in some of the notes) that will become apparent to listeners who only know the standard approach that teams soloist with symphony orchestra. The CD track sequence presents the works in the chronological order of their composition, meaning that the F Minor Concerto No. 2 precedes the E Minor Concerto No. 1. It was recorded in 2010 in honor of the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth and was commercially released in June, 2012.

A key contributor to this project is a name familiar to record collectors from the 60s and 70s – Max Wilcox. An accomplished pianist, teacher and recording engineer, Mr. Wilcox became affiliated with RCA Victor all the way back in 1958 and became a producer the following year. In that capacity he was actually responsible for the Chopin recordings of Artur Rubinstein – so his presence in the Auer recording project brings with it that history, expertise, and dedication.

None of these connections would in and of themselves make the Auer/Shanghai String Quartet traversals of the two concertos recommendable without the addition of the right soloist for the project. Well, simply stated, Edward Auer is the man for the job. Of his approach to the keyboard, it has been said that “he plays with enviable force and clarity” and that “the show of emotion so absent in his demeanor floods from his fingers”. Possessing a technique replete with dynamism as well as poetic sentiment, Auer shapes his phrases with intelligence and care. This is not to say that passion is missing – or that the playing is merely academic or mechanistic. On the contrary, what one gets here is a serious collaboration of artists, totally committed to the music of Chopin. A representative excerpt from the disc demonstrating what I mean would be the second track – the Larghetto form the F Minor Concerto. I thoroughly enjoyed the conception of it. Pianist Auer’s touch offers a definite sense of elegance and artistic comprehension, without Romantic excess.

A question that I often ask myself when I encounter a recording containing both Chopin concertos is, does the soloist differentiate between the concertos – or play them as if they were part of a single conception? Well, in my humble opinion, the composer himself sets them apart from each other sufficiently. Having said that, any sensitive artist should be able to make a separate case for each concerto – and Auer is in that group, going even one step further by offering his own arrangement for the F minor, in total spirit with the composer. Heard on this recording, the later concerto (E Minor, op.11) offers a degree of compositional sophistication and communicative style that distinguish it from its predecessor. The Shanghai musicians support Mr. Auer with conviction, expert playing, and are a successful match for the soloist. To anyone concerned that they will miss the presence of a full orchestra in these recordings, I can assure you that the music-making and the recorded sound will immediately draw you in and not leave you wanting. A worthy release, then, and a fine companion disc to Mr. Auer’s previous Chopin releases.

Peter S. Murano is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M University, and is a part-time writer.

Edward Auer ~ Classic Pianist (official website)