Everyone experiences music differently, of course. Classical music, for some, is an academic exercise of sorts where they note the technical qualities defining each player rather than focusing on more subjective aspects of performance. Hearing Elizabeth Sombart’s Singing the Nocturnes invoked mind-movies for me as I listened to each of the album’s twenty one recordings. Frederic Chopin’s Nocturnes are a near two dozen dramas in miniature with audible arcs in each composition and a larger “super-structure” that introduces itself, presents a challenge, and resolves itself in satisfying manner. Sombart’s greatest achievement, perhaps, is in the artful way she sweeps listeners from one composition into the next.
She sets the stage for everything else that follows with an outstanding “Op. 9 in B Flat Minor”. This opening work has shades of everything that makes the remaining twenty compositions successful without ever giving too much of itself away. Early gems such as “Op. 15 No. 1 in F Major”, “Op. 15 No. 2 in F-Sharp Major”, and their immediate successor “Op. 15 No. 3 in G Minor” constitute a mini-work within the larger whole with the third movement serving as a coda of sorts before alluding to what’s to come.
The work frequently alternates between major and minor keys with flat and minors adding further flavor. This musical see-saw particularly works in its favor when transitioning from compositions such as “Op. 27 No. 2 in D-Flat Major” into “Op. 32 No. 1 in B Major”. Sombart’s flawless ability to draw out and emphasize the splendid dynamics that are a hallmark of Chopin’s piano compositions is one of the chief attractions of this release.
You don’t need to be a classical devotee to appreciate the exquisite tenderness and memorable melodies of “Op. 62 No. 1 in B Major”. These hopeful strands present throughout the release are examples of the diversity present throughout the Polish composer’s work; it is introspective stuff, without question, but its mere existence is an affirmative act and his irrepressible poetry dispels any inklings of gloom.
There are darker moments, though, without a doubt. The work’s climax will seem to arrive, for some, with “Op. 72 No. 1 in E Minor”, but its obvious gravitas is never heavy-handed. The interweaving of light and shade in this piece and the two posthumous pieces concluding the Nocturnes is, once again, characteristic of Chopin’s work and the album gains added luster thanks to her familiarity with his composing.
Singing the Nocturnes is a work you can delve into at any point and enjoy or else experience as a linear musical statement. Both approaches have their rewards. Elizabeth Sombart has recorded another five-star effort in her impressive catalog of classical recordings and there’s no reason to not expect she will release equally outstanding efforts in the future. It is a professional recording, polished from first track through last, and doesn’t treat the performances with even a hint of affectation. It isn’t needed. They stand as exemplary works of musical art and will remain relevant for years to come.