Elizabeth Sombart Delivers Stunning Interpretation of Frederic Chopin’s Nocturnes

I admit only casual familiarity with classical music. If you are a popular music devotee, you are destined to encounter a handful of classical standards throughout your listening life, without question, but there are few adults in nations like the United States who don’t recognize Beethoven’s 7th, even if they don’t know it by name. Elizabeth Sombart, among her many other fine attributes, has a passion for spreading the proverbial good word about classical music.

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Her Fondation Résonnance has, since 1998, promoted classical music in institutions where it is otherwise inaccessible and shows proven good. Hospitals, prisons, and orphanages are among the places where Sombart and her colleagues have brought their skills. The organization, likewise, promotes progressive methods in music instruction and advocates dispensing with age restrictions, competitions, and exams.

Her interpretation of Frederic Chopin’s Nocturnes provides ample evidence of her music skills. It’s the latest in a long string of recordings Sombart has authored over her 20+ year career and I believe it may be her finest moment yet. Her ability for interjecting a poetic sensibility each step of the way through the Polish giant’s twenty one compositions testifies to her gifts for further elevating already outstanding compositions.

“Op. 9 No. 1 in B Flat Minor” begins the work and sets the trajectory for everything to come. Nocturnes opens on a tentative note, crystalline notes resounding in a barren landscape, but Chopin soon builds on those opening strands. Sombart’s sharp sense of pacing develops his ideas in a way that makes it difficult to pull away; there’s a magic about this work that held my attention from the outset.

Creative pairings such as “Op. 15 No. 1 in F Major” and “Op. 15 No. 2 in F-Sharp Major” are almost like painterly graduations of color. Chopin provides Sombart with the canvas, and she shows a sure hand filling its expanses with masterful shading. It’s never cliched, either. If your idea of classical music is strings endlessly droning on and near-somnolent passages stretched past any point of endurance, Sombart’s Singing the Nocturnes will surprise and please you.

There’s an indomitable spirit bursting through, as well. The minor key structure of “Op. 48 No. 1 in C Minor” never impedes the fierce emotion it conjures deep into the piece; the tone is never threatening, but it rates as one of the collection’s dramatic peaks. Chopin’s compositional sophistication continues to dazzle with pieces such as “Op. 55 No. 2 in E-Flat Major”, but these aren’t such high-flown ideas listeners will struggle to respond. Sombart always highlights the quasi “vocal” quality of the composing.

This is an ideal release for someone with an interest in classical music who, perhaps, has no idea where to begin. Chopin isn’t some sort of “classical for dummies” but, instead, a composer who couples the excellence distinguishing the form with musical language comprehensible to any attentive listener. Singing the Nocturnes is well within the tradition of Elizabeth Sombart’s finest work and will enjoy impress any listener willing to hear it with an open mind. 

Zachary Rush