If you were to ask me, for a million bucks, to name more than three classical composers, I would be the goofball walking off empty-handed — when it comes to music that predates the 1950s, I’m pretty overwhelmed by the variety of road maps to follow — so overwhelmed I generally just snap back into whatever easy album I can find, ignoring the past entirely. With that in mind, Singing the Nocturnes, the latest album from the piano master Elizabeth Sombart, has come to be one of my true first glimpses into the world of classical music through the lens of Chopin, and… I’m starting to see what all the hype is about.
For those unfamiliar with the great Elizabeth Sombart, she’s lived quite the life. Born in Strasbourg, she’s been playing and learning piano since the age of seven; this practice brought her internationally to places such as Buenos Aires, London, Vienna, and Sergiu Celibidache as she continued to pursue her love of music. In addition to being a phenomenal pianist, however, the story thickens as Sombart is not only fantastic at the piano but brilliant at being a human being. In 1998, she struck out on the path to open the Fondation Résonnance, her attempt to bring classical music to those who would otherwise miss out on it (prisons, orphanages, etc.), and she has been broadcast on France 3 TV as well as receiving the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite in 2006 for her lifetime achievement, in addition to being awarded the rank of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2008. Oh, and she’s released almost three dozen albums alongside all of this and is back with a new one.
Singing the Nocturnes is a fantastic new record from Sombart, as it adequately introduces newcomers to Chopin while offering up enough bulk and meat for those already acquainted with his oeuvre, and Sombart plays the tracks incredibly well. Of course, everyone knows “Nocturnes, Op. 9: II. Andante in E-Flat Major” (if not by name, they’ll know it after five seconds of listening) and the music only ramps up from there. It’s a decidedly tight project from Sombart, even as it runs two hours in length and can almost overwhelm the listener when listened to in full, but the long-winded nature of the music speaks to its pros more than its cons, and the earned feeling of accomplishing something as substantial as Singing the Nocturnes feels like a merit badge; the task was a challenging and highly rewarding one, and getting to spend time with a total expert made the act all the more enjoyable.
Elizabeth Sombart has had an incredible professional career, and her fervor for the material she covers has yet to flicker or dim even a pinch. Most people attempt something once or twice (three times if we’re lucky) before throwing in the towel but Sombart found out what she was good at and shared it with the world, never one to hold in her successes for herself. She’s a remarkable artist and a remarkable person and Singing the Nocturnes is a perfect snapshot of the artistry she is fully capable of. Bravo, Ms. Sombart!
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