In his four Ballades, Chopin turns the piano into a whitewater raft, floating gently along a quiet stream before suddenly plunging down a canyon. Apparently inspired by the genre of Romantic “ballad” poems of the early nineteenth century, Chopin presents in these pieces, each under 10 minutes long, enough emotion to keep a symphony orchestra busy.
Swedish pianist Leif Ove Andsnes wisely breaks up the Ballades with three somewhat more gentle Nocturnes. Andsnes’ masterful playing brings out the pieces’ individual colors and emotions.
This music is not meant to be played in the background at a dinner party. Make sure everyone is out of the house, sit on the couch, turn the volume way up, close your eyes, and let Chopin and Andsnes take you on a gripping musical ride. (Sony Classical)