French Pianist Elizabeth Sombart Personifies Fondation Résonnance

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Winning a Grammy is winning the biggest award in all of music, if not the entertainment industry as a whole, and while there’s really not much left for Elizabeth Sombart to prove professionally, this is one bar she seems more than poised to surpass with her new album Singing the Nocturnes. Released in 2022 to massive critical acclaim among classical music lovers, Singing the Nocturnes is a bold homage to Chopin, but what it showcases in its star performer is so much more than what the typical classical work has to offer, even with material as stimulating as Chopin’s unmatched Nocturnes.

Op.s 9, 15, and 48 are of particular interest to listeners curious to hear some substantial drive in a classically trained pianist this autumn, and I would even argue they play out a little better against the fall backdrop than they do any other time of year. There’s a hint of retrospection to this play that instantly connects Sombart with her past works with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as directed by Pierre Vallet, but never does she rely on past bursts of energy as a foundation for anything she’s trying to do here – frankly, these statements are too original to have been recycled from another source.

In addition to the story Sombart is able to string together in this tracklist through nothing more than her spirited performance of Chopin’s material, it’s her courageous arrangements of certain movements that are almost guaranteed to leave you mystified by both her elegance and her ability to stack melodies in a poignant manner. She’s got a lot of moxie coming into the studio, but there’s really nothing here to suggest that this attitude would remain isolated within the four walls she’s operating inside. I’d love to see her live in the near future to confirm as much, and I know I’m not the only one who walked away from her last record thinking that.

Chopin’s compositional hand is one of the greatest of all time, and without the kind of restrictive, deliberate movements that Sombart makes in this tracklist, the content she’s performing wouldn’t have the resilience nor the vitality it has in this scenario. To learn the work is one thing, but giving it another life as she does here is something you don’t hear very often, let alone in a classical genre as set apart from the rest of music as it is today.

In the many years she’s been working with this medium, Elizabeth Sombart has created a status for herself that few are able to contend with professionally, and her release of Singing the Nocturnes is undeniably worthy of her place in the hierarchy of modern classical music. It’s been fourteen years since she was awarded Chevalier de I’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and sixteen since hitting the lifetime achievement mark for her artistic career, but from the looks of her most recent work, I would have to assume that she’s only getting started, and picking up a well-earned Grammy Award is the logical next step for her career.

Claire Uebelacker

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