He is a great pianist, but not a Chopin specialist. Does that mean he can’t be a great Chopinist?
Let’s not leave the question hanging too long. Vladimir Ashkenazy IS a great Chopinist. Even partisans of an older, highly Romantic style would place Ashkenazy among the foremost recorded interpreters of Chopin’s music.
If there’s such a thing as objective evidence in discussions like this, it would be his performance in the 1955 Chopin Competition. He took second prize, displaying a gentler approach than we tend to associate with Russian pianists. In 1984, Ashkenazy became the first to record all of Chopin’s solo piano works.
One of the knocks on Vladimir Ashkenazy is that he does too many things. His piano repertoire ranges from Bach to Rachmaninoff. And he’s not only a pianist. In the 1980s he launched a conducting career, leading the Royal Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic and, currently, the Sydney Symphony.
By picking up the baton, some critics say Ashkenazy became less invested in the piano bench. And in 2007, physical problems forced him to give up keyboard concerts. But Ashkenazy hasn’t been forgotten in the bicentennial sweep of Chopin picks by the critics. Gramophone magazine cites his “convincing details” and “virtuosic flair”; The New York Times calls Ashkenazy’s Chopin “passionate and fiery,” but adds that ”you always have the sense of a keen intellect at work.”
Vladimir Ashkenazy has found a LOT to think about in late Chopin. “Towards the end of his life,” he says, “he discovered more potency in his mind and soul.” And, “in going even deeper into his intimate expression, he…embraced all humanity.” - Frank Dominguez & Don Lee