Elizabeth Sombart’s Singing the Nocturnes is a major reinterpretation for modern audiences of classic Frederic Chopin’s classic pieces written almost two centuries ago. Her sparkling piano playing and the evocative yet no-frills recording of the performances reveal the full breadth of Chopin’s melodic inventiveness. Sombart’s extensive and impeccable classical music credentials make her one of the modern music world’s pre-eminent purveyors of this material.
They are credentials established through a steady climb. She demonstrated an early aptitude for music that marked her for success. She began her studies early at age seven and experienced her first public performance a few years later. By her teenage years and early 20’s, Sombart studied in far-flung locales such as Vienna, Buenos Aires, and London completing her classical music education with some of the genre’s greatest educators.
Singing the Nocturnes, as a title, may imply to some that vocals are in the offing. This is, of course, not the case. It is an instrumental album but each of the 21 pieces included in its track listing possesses a remarkably vocal quality – a sense of artist fully caught up in inspiration, at this moment, and delivering those pieces as song. The elevated quality isn’t pronounced, there’s no hard-sell, but it’s there.
You can hear it in the way she glides through the melodies of the compositions. She alternates that with a light and heavier touch, precise timing, and a hard-charging rhythmic style when necessary. Listeners hear the full range of Sombart’s skills throughout Singing the Nocturnes. It’s the same outstanding ability she’s brought to bear addressing Beethoven’s work in the past and her ability to modulate emotional ranges should be noted as well.
Dynamics are an integral part of musical composition and rendering them as a solo performer is a different challenge than with a small or large ensemble. It remains daunting, however. Sombart, however, is up to that challenge as she generates a real sense of musical drama in each of the album’s twenty one performances. It’s stark testimony to the enduring power of this genre.
She has reaffirmed that enduring power in her philanthropy as well. The 1998 founding of Fondation Résonnance advanced the cause of music in the world today in a way few others can claim. The Fondation brings music programming to individuals who may not otherwise benefit from its influence such as hospital patients, the incarcerated, or orphanages.
The turn of the century heralded a consolidation of her reputation that she continues enjoying today. Sombart received the rank of Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite for Lifetime Achievement from France in 2006 and the government lauded her in 2008 as well with a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. These honorariums, however, haven’t swayed her from her ongoing purpose. She is a musician, a musical artist. Her playing continues the traditions of classical music for a new generation and serves as an inspiration to whoever may follow in her footsteps. She has blazed a path and continues doing so today.