Chopin is undeniably one of the great, timeless composers of all time, and when his work is revisited by the likes of Elizabeth Sombart in the new album Singing the Nocturnes, it feels like a message from beyond the grave to listeners of a new generation. There’s something very ghostly about the delicate nature of Sombart’s take on “Nocturnes, Op. 37 No. 1-11,” “Op. 48 No. 1-13,” and “Op. 72 No. 1-19,” but it’s not specifically casting a dark shadow over the narrative of this LP. Contrarily, this record feels like a journey through the night into the new morning’s sun (“Nocturnes, posth. No. 21”), greeting us with an effervescence seemingly around every twist and turn in the tracklist.
Formidable pressure backs the arrangement of all three excerpts from “Nocturnes, Op. 55” as featured here, but I appreciate Sombart’s rejection of a more liberal stylization for this movement. There’s nothing quite as bad in classical as someone overstating a theme or, worse yet, making bland copies of a compositional wit that we’ve already heard elsewhere; she’s undisputedly doing neither in Singing the Nocturnes. You don’t need a lot of showboating or stylistic filler when you’ve got the talent that this pianist does, and hence, we find absolutely nothing of the kind when making our way through the whole of this album and its countless explorations of the night. This is the right sort of player to navigate such profound material, and anyone who denies as much clearly hasn’t given this LP a complete listen.
A relentless confidence finds its way into both “Op. 27” and “Op. 48,” but this sensibility never verges on arrogance – in fact, there’s a rather humble tone to this content that I haven’t been able to find much of outside of old guard classical recordings now being left in the archives by many young listeners. This isn’t to say that Sombart is being too old-fashioned with her arrangement of this material, but more to acknowledge her puritanical approach when it comes to recording something like the Nocturnes in 2022. She could just as easily have pummeled us with lofty experimentation, but she’s instead playing to the truest form of the model possible – which takes a lot of moxie these days, as any classical fan is more than aware.
I wasn’t as familiar with Elizabeth Sombart’s collective discography as I probably should have been before coming into this new year, but with the release of this all-new record, I’ve come to appreciate her dexterity and, more importantly, what it can accomplish when placed in the right circumstances. Singing the Nocturnes is top to bottom brilliance, but it doesn’t come across as being the product of an egomaniacal personality. Instead, this is a balanced depiction of who and what Chopin was made of as a composer and as a man, with his Nocturnes compositions arguably offering us the darkest and most vulnerable of his work to ever see the light of day. I’m very pleased with what I’ve heard here, and I think you will be too.