Chopin Fantasie Impromptu, Opus 66

Can anyone recommend a great performance/recording of this piece?
Artur Rubinstein. Not an audiophile recording, but Rubinstein commands a "rightness" in Chopin that gets to the core of things. Good listening!
2nd for Rubinstein. Romantic period stuff doesn't come easily for me, usually, and I didn't "get" Chopin until I heard Rubinstein. Kind of like Segovia with classical guitar. There are other great classical guitarists, but Segovia was special.
Tough assignment - recommending a 'great' recording of a great performance for someone who has a great audio system, with no clues as to what aspects of this piece, or Chopin for that matter, are important to him. Only an idiot would respond! Well here goes -----

Assumptions - because you ask I'm presuming you are looking for a 'dreamy' version and one that is clear in tone. Because you are not my mother I took out only 8 different versions, including 4 by Chopin specialists, which are all in print, and some of which are in two CD sets. If you want more, Google or get out the Guides in print or on the 'net which have all of the old(er) ones. :-)

I found 2 versions that might fit, 1 for sure. Angela Hewitt "Chopin Nocturnes" on Hyperion, a two CD set. This is almost as romantic as it gets, I think. And it should sound great on a hi-res system. And you also get a good set of Chopins Nocturnes as well.

Now if I only had to consider style, slow, dreamy romantic stuff, I go for Jon Nakamatsu on Hyperion BUT the recording is a tad resonant which will show up on your system. This is only one cut on the CD. The companions are much more diverse. I like it quite a bit. In fact a lot.

A little less 'dreamy' perhaps, but a good compromise in style (not too aggressive - common with many Chopin specialists) is Howard Shelly on Chandos. Probably a good choice for someone looking for a very good recording in a style that is neither aggressive nor too slowly paced.

If you want something a bit faster, Horowitz's recording on Sony is quite nice.

FWIW, my first 'go to' for Chopin in general is Ohlsson, if for no other reason that he is Polish and plays a Bosendorfer Grand Imperial. If you like this instrument his Impromptus 4 comes in a two CD set including the Polonaises and his pace is on the slow side.

Then there is always Rubensteins which continues to recieve universal acclaim.

Probably didn't help you much did I........
Thanks all. Newbee, great to hear from a fellow idiot! I'd already done a bit of research on my own and had already ordered the Hewitt version on SACD so good to hear I made a good choice. Great input as always, Newbee, and I'm a hopeless romantic, which is probably what drew me to the piece in the first place. See my original thread if you want to watch the DVD and hear the passage that caused me to seek this out in the first place. Funny you mention your mom, I was back east visiting my mom (writing from there now as a matter of fact) where both my mom and I were watching that DVD and we both commented about that piano passage at the end of the DVD finding ourselves looking for the source in the credits. Alas, there was none. I'll look up the Rubinstein version(s) as well, which I may already have on some disc as I do have some of his performances. Thanks to all for the recommendations.
Evgeny Kissin Plays Chopin

I'll pick this one up as well. Very good playing.
Just got Kissin CD. Excellent! Both the performance and the sound quality. Just awesome! Highly recommended.
Just got Kissin CD. Excellent! Both the performance and the sound quality. Just awesome! Highly recommended.

Thanks, I will order it. I got the Hewitt SACD. While the performance is outstanding, the recording and sonics are surprisingly poor. It seems to have been recorded with very low gain necessitating a 3 O'clock position on my preamp, as well (necessitating a similarly high position on a friend's system). The piano seems distant and a bit fuzzy overall...not in crisp, sharp focus, nor very immediate. It's a shame as the performances on these two discs are very nice indeed. Certainly on the more romantic side as Newbee sussed out.
Jax2, Re your sonic observations of the Hewlett disc. I have it in 2 channel redbook cd. I do not have the SACD (or even a SACD player, for that matter). Which leads to my question - is the SACD you have a 2 channel, or multi channel?

I ask because what you have described about the recordings sonics in general, is exactly what I have experienced when I have listened to the redbook cd layer of a multi-channel SACD. I'm told it isn't so, so I only know what I 'think' I have heard. I've never had the two format (Redbook and SACD) discs to do an A/B comparison. But, I'd think that if the disc was recorded to play back in 5 channels it is going to sound different when only the front two channels are played back. I don't know if on a SACD player that will make a difference or not, but I heard a distinct difference playing a MC SACD on a redbook player than I hear when I play back the CD layer on a 2 channel SACD hybrid recording.

I'm really curious as I did not experienced the problems you described which seem to surpass my hearing inadequacies. The gain issue for instance. I had no issue with gain at all. Well with in my expectations of CD playback. Nor did I find the piano excessively recessed nor did I detect any mic's sitting on the soundboard either.

Very interesting...........

PS I'm happy you ordered this before you read my recommendationa - I don't have to take any responsibility for your disappointment. :-)
Rubinstein, John Ogdon, Yundi Li, Yvgeny Kissin,
Jax, Just for fun I put the Hewitt back on and I also played the Kissin's Carnagy Hall performance of Chopin Vol 1 which does not have Impromptus 4 but I assume its the same performance/recording session that produced Impromptus 4.

Without commenting on the performance itself, the sound differential was very interesting. The Kissin lower registers were in full bloom (big and warm) and the image was larger and more forward. The Hewlett was more laid back and had more of the highs dominating the image which did appear smaller/more recessed. The highs in the Kissin recording seemed less evident. Completely different recording styles. I think you will love the Kissin.

I guess I'll have to buy Vol 2 to get the Improptus (I assume that is where it is but I'll check). But, as to gain, the highs in the Hewlitt were very close to the same level as the bass in the Kissin. Choice of adjectives, but one might consider the Kissin recording as having more subdued highs and the Hewlett to have more subdued lower frequencies (Studio v Live or Carnagy Hall acoustic?).

But, one must consider that I voiced my system for smooth and clear, but not dominating, highs. Maybe that is the reason for my impression of these two recordings. If you don't hear the sonic's w/Kissin as I described, big, warm, w/out HF emphasis, then we may just be talking about the inadequacies of my system/setup or my aging ears. :-)
I was at an estate sale, and just picked up a sealed Rubinstein/Chopin 8 Polonaises-4 Imprompus RCA Victor Red Seal Dynagroove recording. 2 lp's, I beleive. I think it's from around 1964. I'm not into classical, so this, and 90 Carnegie Hall Library of Classical Music lp's, (all like new), will be listed for sale in a couple weeks, if anyone's interested.
Jax2, I ordered the Kissin recording also. Thought I might as well get Vol 2 as well. FWIW.
Many thanks, Newbee (and all). Newbee, I did not take your original recommendation as one having actually heard the recording so I would not have blamed you either way :-)

FWIW I have a multi-layered version of the disc and am playing in on a Modwright/Sony player (SACD). I am not able to get the CD layer to play on my player (though it does have the layer there) so I brought it over to hear on my friend's system (an outstanding system, BTW), and came away with very similar impressions. Both his and my systems required copious amounts of attenuation at the pre stage. Mine was at 3:30 and his at 2:30 (this is not normal for either system). At the same time I'd brought over a far less lofty piece of piano music to hear on his system and I have to say I'd never heard a piano sound so good coming from a pair of speakers! It was hair raising good! So what I'm saying is that it was definitely not the system that was throwing a poor image. His player is just a CD player so was definitely playing the CD layer on the Hewitt. Interesting observation on the dual-layered discs. A bust in more ways than one for me as it was a relatively expensive disc too. From the standpoint of the performance it was a fine recommendation, and if the CD is better than the dual layer I certainly understand your recommending it. Burn me a copy and I'll burn you a copy and we can see how they vary on our respective systems;-) OK, I'm ordering the Kissin!
Jax 2, I'm sure you are too careful to make the mistake, but lest my comments about my purchase of the Kissin Impromptus 4, it is NOT in Vol 2. It is in a newer/different release.

BTW, I'm still puzzled about the gain differential as well as any sonic differences in general between MC SACD's 2 channel sound played back on a Redbook player vs a regular CD vs a Hybrid CD. I really think something is going on there. Be interesting if someone would feed back on this. I'm too lazy to start a new thread.
Newbee, do you have acces to the liner notes to tell me the recording engineer on the Kissin? If it's who I think it is, I might have an interesting story about the recording that might shed light on its sound.

Very strange about the Hewitt recording. I have other recordings by her on SACD, maybe I'll give them a listen on both layers this weekend.
Reprince, The recording engineer was Leszek Wojcik on the Kissin Chopin Vol 1. It was recorded in 1993 in Carnegie Hall. (Hard to believe Kissin has been around that long!)

Obviously I've been surprised by Jax2's comments, at least the degree to which he has found the recording defficient, especially the gain issue. The rest I can ascribe to different audio systems and sonic preferences, if they exist.

Please post if you do have the opportunity to hear a MC SACD disc played back on a Redbook CD player. In other 2 channel SACD's with a Redbook layer that I've heard on my Redbook CD players I can charge any 'differences' I've thought I've heard to my imagination.

Funny thing about audio, even though neither Kissin nor Hewlett are ever likely to be my favorites in Chopin, I'm buying two more CD's just to resolve some audio issues and find out if I'm missing something, performance wise. Go figure! :-)
My favorite Chopin interpreter has been Moravec, particularly his recordings on the old Connoisseur Society label. Some of his work was released on CD by VAI, but I’m not sure if this Impromptu was in those collections.

On the Kissin, it's not the same engineer, but I’ll tell the story anyway. I got the chance to hear the master tape of a Kissin recording at Carnegie made by Tim Martyn for RCA (I got Tim to bring his console and some of his master tapes to an NJAS meeting at my home last year). For that recording he used a pair of spaced omnis out in the hall, and a three (I believe—might have been a stereo pair) mic array over the piano to add presence. Since we were listening to the master tape and had the mixing console, we were able to cut out either of the microphone feeds and listen to just the omnis or the array over the piano. I would say that from your description the recording engineer for the Kissin probably had more of the close-up mics in the mix, while the omnis alone sounded closer to your description of the Hewitt recording (though it sounded about as realistic and balanced as anything I've ever heard in a concert hall—Tim’s observation was that Carnegie's acoustics are good enough that you really didn’t need anything more than the omnis, and I think that was the consensus in the club after our listening). So I think you’re right about the different recording styles, though keep in mind that a recording engineer might have used a number of styles to put the performance on tape, but the producer and the artist have a bigger say in the mix from the mics and the sound of the resulting finished product.
Interesting experience. That must have been fun! Wish I'd been there.

I suspect we (audio equipment enthusiasts) could all benefit from a greater understanding of the various recording practices of recording engineers and how those practices translate into the sound we are hearing from our systems.

Re Moravec - I have two VAIA CD's, his Nocturnes on NONESUCH, and Four Scherzi on Dorian. No Impromptus that I could find. I share you opinion of Moravec's Chopin - I usually buy anything I can find by Moravec, but there is so little, especially when compared to his huge talent.

Since you mentioned a great talent, FWIW, I think one of the most, not exactly underrated, but at least most overlooked performer of all of Chopin's solo piano music when recommendations are being made, is Ashkenazy. Hearing his performances juxtaposed to Kissin's (in general) illustrates how far Kissin has to go before he is entitled to all of the acclaim he seems to have generated. IMHO - I'm not a Chopin specialist. Unfortunately I've found the CD's are a bit bright and not as agreeable as his performances. Thats why I didn't mention them to Jax2. I could also say about as much about Biret's Chopin, (as well as her Brahms and Rachmaninoff). Excellent overall performances on less than optimum recordings by Naxos - but on the cheap for people who want to explore.

I'll look forward to your comments on formats if you get the chance. Jax2 has offered to burn and send me a copy of his SACD and I'm going to take him up on it. It might be interesting to compare notes.
Newbee, are you a pianist? I have listened to Kissin's CD few times by now. I haven't listened to it too critically yet to judge the performance. It was very enjoyable from the first listen, so it is difficult for me to say. I also have Ashkenazy recording, which is fine, but I actually prefer Kissin. It just sound fresh and more alive.
Ashkenazy at times sounds like he played this stuff too many times already.
I'll definitely have to listen to the Kissin recording few more times.

FWIW, I JUST recieved my copy of the Kissin Impromptus 4 this AM, my earlier comments were about his recording on Volume 1 at Carnegie hall which did not include it.

For performance comparisons, for Jax's purposes, I did a down and dirty listen to it as well as the Hewlett and Nakamatsu versions which I had previously commented on to Jax2 in my original post, and which I selected because of my view of the 'dreamy nature' of their performances of Impromptus 4.

The tone, or contrasts in tone, in Hewletts and Nakamatsu's was softer, less sharply delineated, if you will. The tempo about the same. Some will love Kissin's version I think, especially if you like a more masculine style (and I do with a lot of Chopin, especially his sonatas). And that is how I heard the Kissin recording. But that was just once, Ill be listening to it again and I'll keep an open mind. I love alternatives in everything.

BTW the acoustic and recording techniques are totally different from my other Kissin/Carnegie Hall recordings I mentioned to Jax2. I think this last recording (made in 2007) is more balanced over the entire spectrum and if you like Kissin's Chopin there is no reason not to have this CD nor any of his others for that matter if you are not too anal about audio.

BTW, you make take solice in the fact that my piano experience is as limited as my computer keyboard skills. Slow, hunt and peck, with lots of errors. But, as I love a good read, I love the music from a solo piano. A prime interest for me.
I'm not a big Chopin fan. But I was really impressed with Kissin's playing. I just had to have that disc. I'm glad you sort of like it too.
As far as a combination of good recording quality and good piano playing, this is a very good example.

I also highly recommend Kissin and Levine (recorded live at Carnegie Hall) "Schubert: Piano Music for 4 hands".
That is also a very good recording from both the performance and recording standpoints.
Yep, re Kissin/Levine. And I didn't even think of Levine as a pianist, although I guess all conductors do play the piano. :-)

Now for something almost oxymoronic - Volodos plays Schubert and on Sony no less. Outstanding nuanced performance (who da thunk this 'key banger' could have done it) and an excellent recording by a mainstream manufacturer. If you haven't already, you really have to hear it. My opinion of Volodos potential really soared when I first hear this. If you are fond of Schubert (and I assume your are) this is a 'go to' recording IMHO. I've been hoping he would do some more.
I think the Kissin/Levine recording is the one Tim played for us.

I have ordered the Hewitt SACD, I've got to hear for myself what Jax is describing. In some respects, the description is similar to the sound I heard from my SACD player when it was set for multi-chammel playback, where I only have a two channel system. Since it was played back on a CD player, that obviously isn't the case in Jax's situation.

Newbee, I think Moravec made some recordings for Dorian, I'll have to check my library tonight.
Hey Newbee - I LOVE that Volodos / Schubert recording on Sony! Yes, highly recommended. Another go-to for me is Pletnev's live Carnegie Hall double disc.

Jax2, You've got me - I don't have Pletnevs Carnegie appearance. :-( I just put it on my shopping list at Amazon.
Now something for you IF you like obscure music. Since you like Pletnev, and you love good recordings, if you are up to some obscure, small scale Tchaikovsky (no cannons, no barnstorming theatrics, no tears, no drama what so ever, so unlike PIT) and you got the money to burn, Tchaikovsky's 18 Pieces Op72. Another live performance on DG recorded in 2005. I have one other recording of it and Pletnev's blows it away. The recording has both great clarity and a sense of depth. No fuzz or tizz in the highs, nor booming bass registers either. (I'm hoping the Carnegie Hall performance you have recommended is at least as good). But don't blame me if you it finding boring. It's impossible to know what others might enjoy, or not. :-)
PS I'd add that the Volodos is an excellent recording with great immediacy and presence (wonderful performance too), which is primarily what I felt is lacking in the dual-layer Hewitt (not "Hewlett", Newbee - if there is a Hewlett recording then we're talking about a different artist :-)

The Pletnev CD is a very spirited and energetic live performance. It does not have the sonic immediacy of the Volodos but it is a powerful performance, and a great live recording (IMO of course). It's on Deutsche Grammophon.
Oh, jez, I try to be nice to the guy and he turns out to be a pedantic. Go figure! :-)
OK, now I'm really perplexed!!!! So I'm burning the CD copies for Newbee this morning and use a direct-copy software (one disc in one drive copied to one in another). I just went to play the burned copy in my system to confirm that it played fine before sending it out, and to my amazement not only does it play fine, but it sounds superior to the SACD, and does not require nearly as much gain (I'd say it's a good 5db higher in gain overall). I put in the original SACD and sure enough, the sound was more distant and required going from 11 o'clock to 2 o'clock on my pre to get a similar volume to the copied version!!! WTF! Now this does NOT explain why on my friend's system, which as far as I know is a CD-only player, the disc had a similar sound and similar issue with gain as it does on my own SACD player!!!! The disc had to have been playing its CD layer on his system, yet it required a very high amount of attenuation from his pre too. Somebody give me a clue here!!! This is VERY ODD!

I've just started a new thread that will be up as soon as the moderator approves it. I think this issue is worthy of a thread of its own at this point.
Rubenstein for sure
Hey Newbee (and all)- I finally listened to the Kissin today. Wow, that is a unique and passionate interpretation - he really makes the music his own in some ways. I really enjoy his playing. It is a much bolder interpretation than Hewitt, who tends towards the traditional and romantic. It sounds very different indeed from Hewitt's rendition of some of the same compositions. Sonics are OK, but not great on the Kissin -- better than the Hewitt SACD I'm getting, on par with the burned CD of the same. Good for a live recording overall. I guess I'm spoiled with the expectation of the immediacy of various studio recordings of piano (which make it sound as if the piano where in the room rather than on a stage in the distance) that I enjoy so live on stage always seems to fall short in that respect. Certainly not in the performance, especially in this case. Thanks very much for pointing me that way. Next up; Rubenstein! Newbee, did you get the Pletnev I suggested?
Hi Jax2, Kissin DOES make it his own, doesn't he. :-)

I've got Pletnev on my order list, but I'm waiting for some more to get there before I hit the button. I'll let you know when I hear it. I'm now more curious than ever.
I've got Pletnev on my order list, but I'm waiting for some more to get there before I hit the button. I'll let you know when I hear it. I'm now more curious than ever.

$6 used on Amazon with about $3 for shipping: you cannot go wrong! I look forward to hearing your impressions. I've really been enjoying the Kissin. BTW, I passed on the Hewitt SACD along with the burned CD's to a friend with a universal player. He listened at my house and was astounded at the difference. I'll be curious to hear what happens on his player. I'll post to that other thread.
Rubinstein would be my first choice, to me, he just sounds right but a second choice would be Kissin or Perahia. Was surprised that no one else mentioned the later.
Well, just for the fun of it I pulled Perahia's out and played it. It has been a long time since I last listened to it. Perhaps I should have mentioned it in my initial post to Jax2. It's quite nice indeed, if a bit on the soft dreamy side which is just what I thought might be something he would like.

BTW, if you are adventurous at all about Chopin, or for that matter Brahms and Rachmaninoff, try Biret on Naxos. I don't know why no one ever mentions these performances. Just excellent, and budget, recordings no less. Just don't think because she is a woman they are going to be soft and wimpy. Not! She in the middle of doing a traversal of Beethoven's sonatas and even though my shelves a 'full' I'm going to try some. Oh, BTW, should you not be familiar with the Brahms Intermezzi hers would be a great place to start. Some of the most sublime music for solo piano and she does it well!

Michelangeli, Sofronitsky, Vedernikov.
My favorite performance of that 4th impromptu is actually an old Philips recording by Bela Davidovich. Very expressive, well recorded, and quite a bit better than the Rubenstein performance I have.

newbee - I just want to disagree with your recommendation of Biret on Naxos. I have her recording of the sonatas and, due to poor sonics, it is a mush - distant and muddy.
Jult52, FWIW I sort of listen to performances more than sound, so one must always look elsewhere for sonic spectaculars, but just for the fun of it I put the recording on that you mentioned.

On the system I used, Primaluna 3/5, Wadia 302, and Silverline Bolero speakers, I found the sound of this CD to be a bit dry and slightly edgy in the upper mids, but far from the 'mush-distant and muddy' you have experienced. This is a sonic signature I have come to accept as the norm for most Naxos recordings I have purchased (not that many, but most of Biret's).

Obviously we have different systems as well as expectations.

BTW, sonics apart, what do you think about Biret's skills as a Chopin interpreter/performer?
Newbee - I'm not familiar with her Chopin, although I know she has a positive rep. I usually try to be forgiving of sonics but some of the Naxos releases test my patience and that Rach disc is one of them.
Hi Jult52, Noted that you were referring to Rachmaninoff's Sonata not Chopins. I just happened to have Birets Rachmaninoff's recordings and played some of them this AM. including the Sonata #2. Different than the Chopin, perhaps a bit more balance in the lower frequencies, but like the Chopin Sonatas, far from muddy/mushy/distant on my system, and yet I do believe you heard what you heard as you described it. It is just your speaker system.

I came across a post you (I assume) made on Audioasylum and noted that your speakers are Maggies. These are excellent speakers and loved by many BUT they are not renowned for excelling at 'specificity', quite the contrary. So a recording with information coming from one point on a stage will tend to smear when reproduced by a panel speaker (especially when the design doesn't include a separate tweeter, such as a line stage ribbon etc). The greater the denseness of the information, the greater the smear and this could certainly sound muddy/mushy.

While panel speakers sound fine on orchestral music and listening from places in the room other than the sweet spot (of carefully located speakers/chair/room) when faced with reproducing music or voice originating from a specific source they don't do so well. The classic example is the voice of a singer which should localize very specifically is spread across the stage created by the speakers and make the singer sound grossly disproportionate to what you might hear live. Same applies to violins, pianos, etc.

FWIW, I'm posting this not so much to create controversy with you over what we are hearing, but more so to insure that any folks who might be otherwise interested will not be put off by your (I think) indiscriminate denigration of Biret's recordings on Naxos).
OK, newbee, just did a listen to Biret's recording of the Rachmaninoff Sonatas 1 & 2 (the only I one I have) and I stand by my comments so we'll have to disagree. I always enjoy your posts on A'gon, so keep 'em coming.
Jax2 I just discovered a recording of Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu Op66 which you may enjoy. May.

Antonin Kubalek recorded for Dorian Recordings. The Chopin is contained in a disc of 'encores' titled "My Gift to You". Audio quality is excellent - lots of detail but the mic wasn't on the sound board. Performance is relaxed but not too dreamy and the perspective was more natural than many I've heard. Only problem is that I assume this may be OOP.

FWIW, he has two disc's of Brahms music for solo piano and one of Czech "Miniature Masterpieces" which I play regularly and recommend, all on the Dorian label.

BTW, I'm sorry, I never did get that other Kissin you recommended, so I still can't comment.
Thanks, Newbee! I'll keep an eye out for it. I've been enjoying the Hewlett disc you recommended, in spite of initially being disenchanted with the sonics. I still find the piano to sound a bit distant, but do enjoy the performance. You inspired me to put it on right now...lovely! The Kissin is more athletic and full of bravado and flourish (hope I conveying this well). I find Hewlett to be more as you describe May - relaxed, natural and beautifully flowing. Kissin is more abrupt perhaps...unpredictable and a bit brash at times.