Title: The Chopin Variations (on solo piano)
Artist: Chad Lawson
Release Date: 2015 Jan 20
Genre: Classical / New Age
License: CC BY-NC-SA
Chad Lawson: The Chopin Variations invites you to throw out your preconceived notions of what classical music, especially Chopin, is supposed to sound like. Chad has rearranged the works on this recording to fit into our modern concept of a more relaxed, atmospheric setting. But how does this fare when the listener of well acquainted with many of the Chopin works already?
Chad Lawson: The Chopin Variations
In most classical music circles the original compositions of a piece are somewhat sacrosanct. Certainly it’s not unusual to have a wide variation when it comes to interpreting a piece of work. However, there typically is not a lot of question when it comes to the piece itself actually being the original composition.
However, Chad Lawson has done something that only a few artists do: create their variations, or alternative versions, of the original compositions. And even categorizing these works as variations could be considered to be a stretch in many ways.
Take for example the Mazurka in G Minor, Op 67, No 2. Most who are familiar with the form of the Mazurka know it as a lively, light folk dance, with a triple meter with emphasis on the second or third beat. However, in the hands of Chad Lawson, this particular Mazurka turns into something closer to a waltz with a tempo that is almost akin to a funeral dirge for most of the piece, only a small section having any resemblance to a dance.
Another example can be found in the re-imagining of the Prelude in C Minor, Op 28, No 20. In the original, the piece is a very austere processional with block chords, and minimal melody at a very slow tempo. In Chad Lawson’s version it is transformed into a sweeping arpeggio in the left hand, with a melody based on the harmonic structure floating above it in the right hand. And the tempo is considerably faster than the original (at least it feels faster in this version, although the track is longer on the recording).
The works presented on this recording are a real challenge. It feels as if Chad Lawson set out with the idea of taking these works and making them into works that have almost the exact opposite qualities of the original compositions. But that itself is not a bad thing as it provides a unique perspective into the way in which he hears the works.
However, there is something that I do think will bother listeners of this work. And that is how much Lawson has interjected himself into these pieces. it’s not that these variations are about finding new things in the original works, it’s more about bending the works to fit the style of Chad Lawson. And that is a line that is crossed that I find serious issues with. Typically other composers have written variations on themes of another composer as an homage or a celebration of the genius of the original. In this case, it’s as if Chad Lawson has neglected the aspect that made these works genius in the first place, and instead injected his own ideas without the thought of being respectful to the original works.
This is probably the most divisive release I have listened to in recent memory. On one hand, I am all for transformation and variation. I like the idea of finding something new and different in well known works. I think that is one of the things that makes licensing works under a Creative Commons the most unique and potentially powerful aspects of that license.
However, I also find that Chad Lawson’s approach to re-imagining the works of Chopin to be somewhat distasteful, to the point that I feel there is a certain disrespectful and disingenuous quality to the works. That instead of reaching into the works and finding what is within them, the transformation in this case is more of a matter of making them into a vehicle for Chad Lawson.
Certainly this release is highly listen-able, well recorded and produced from a modern perspective. And, if it draws some new listeners to the work of Chopin then there is a good side to it. But that small amount of good cannot outweigh the negative side of this release.