I’ve never heard anyone play the Chopin Mazurkas – or much else – quite the way Russell Sherman does. Certainly not in recordings made this side of 1930. Conversely, it’s hard to believe this is the playing of an octogenarian pianist. Sherman may be an elder statesman of the piano, at 82 a guru-like figure, yet he shows an impish and limitless imagination.
His playing will probably divide listeners – whimsical, quirky, full of Romantic-era effects such as uncoordinated hands and whirlwind rubatos which, nevertheless, don’t descend into mannerism. The total effect is one of mesmerising improvisation. Some of the tempos are unexpected – for instance, the final track, KK IIb No. 5, is so fleet of finger that it makes most normal, obedient versions seem leaden. Poetic twists and turns abound, inner voices shine up out of nowhere and sink again, rhythms fizz with lightness or turn folksy with gusto. You might hate it, but I love it.
Sound quality is a bit dry, but the closeness does enhance the sense of intimacy.