THE COMPLETE NOCTURNES

London, 2021

My focus in past reviews has often been on the composition or the production of a project, rather than the interpretation. It has therefore been a new challenge for me to write about the American performer and pianist Haley Myles, and her latest release The Complete Nocturnes — of Chopin, of course. In the case of this album, the particularity resides in the fact that the production is somehow Myles’ own interpretation of the music, in her own words her wish was to play Chopin as he intended. Myles is a Young Steinway Artist and has performed and recorded all twenty-one nocturnes on her own Steinway, and to respect the intentions of the Polish composer, in the intimate setting of her own living room. Producing it herself, she had complete control over the sound and the atmosphere. The result is quite unique and refreshing. 

 

Evidently, the Nocturnes have been recorded by many and represent quite a challenge for a pianist. What is evident from the start of The Complete Nocturnes is that Myles manages to bring back some of the intentions of the performers of the mid-19th century and salon concerts; through both her interpretation and her production skills. She recorded the entire project in three days, in her own living room in France, and it has entirely been produced by her. 

Like much of the most recent musical projects, The Complete Nocturnes is the result of the several lockdowns of the past year. And like many, Myles undertook a challenge; in order to connect with her audience and listeners, as well as provide herself with an opportunity to perform. Her Chopin Nocturne Project consisted in recording and releasing a nocturne once a week, until the set was eventually complete. Recording Chopin’s full nocturnes set is indeed a statement in one’s career. 

Chopin is responsible for the development and popularisation of the nocturnes genre. A concept initially developed by the Irish composer Field, His pieces are well-known for their melodic content — a singing right-hand and an accompanying left-hand — and particular treatment of time. Chopin’s nocturnes’ primary characteristics are the free-flowing rhythm — a wish from the composer to reproduce the bel canto of Bellini. 

Points that Myles understood quite well, and which are points of focus for her performance too. Her take on the pieces is authentic and natural; there is no feeling of rushing or pushing, rather emphasising the nocturnal aspect of the music. Myles plays a lot on dynamics and expression rather than technique or virtuosity. It is quite enjoyable to rediscover this familiar music without the veil of technicality, virtuosity and at times extremes of emotions. However, Myles’ interpretation is well-articulated and her control of time, rubato and nuances allows her to distinguish herself. 

The recording, the production, transports the listener back in time. It is indeed a lot less polished than what one has gotten accustomed to, and there is an edge to it. It is this edge which makes it unique and worthy. It is a very modern way to approach classical recording and, coincidentally, as authentic as it can get. 

 

Chopin’s Nocturnes have been recorded many times. So why do it again? Well in Myles situation, it is an artistic statement – most and foremost. One of authenticity. Indeed, the musician has prioritised authenticity in her approach and in the way she has decided to shape her sound and production. This is probably one of the most interesting aspect of The Complete Nocturnes.

Myles stated that Chopin and his Nocturnes were the initial reason why she had decided to start her performer career; these pieces represent the moment she understood what falling in love meant. Her love is palpable and indeed contagious.