Chopin: Mazurkas, Vol. 2

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Mazurkas, Vol. 2
PERFORMER: Patrick Cohen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 920507
Chopin’s mazurkas are perhaps the most elusive branch of his output. Their most obvious and dangerous challenges to performers lie in their rhythmic subtlety. Of all his music, none is more intimately linked with the accents and inflections of the Polish language, but this isn’t to say that only Poles can do them justice. What they do require, though, is a rhythmic buoyancy and flexibility of line which transcends all national characteristics. Like Chopin himself, they are compounded of irony and paradox. The role of the second beat is crucial to all of them, and to their specific identity as dance music (though Chopin’s were never intended for dancing), yet if they’re to succeed in performance the pianist must neutralise the divisive menace of the bar-line, so that the last thing we think of is counting. And it’s in this realm that I find these generally excellent performances wanting. On the plus side, Cohen commands a wide dynamic range, blessedly lacking in stridency of any kind, and a resourceful tonal palette not always evident in players of period instruments. But what are the decisive advantages of using an 1855 Erard in place of a suitably lightweight modern piano? I hear nothing here that isn’t achievable (indeed frequently achieved) by sufficiently expert players of the Steinway, the Bösendorfer or the Yamaha. Listeners wanting a modern piano in modern sound would do better to choose Ashkenazy on Decca. And for those not bothered about state-of-the-art sound, Rubinstein’s EMI set from the Thirties is well-nigh unbeatable. Jeremy Siepmann

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