Chopin: Mazurkas

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LABELS: Arabesque
WORKS: Mazurkas
PERFORMER: Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
Given the overwhelming popularity of Chopin, remarkably few pianists have dared to approach the Mazurkas wholesale. There is a particular mystique about them – it is often said that the true mazurka rhythm is so elusive that you need to be Polish to play them properly. They’re certainly difficult, but Garrick Ohlsson – an American of Scandinavian extraction – plays them so well that that preconception can be rapidly dismissed. Not only does he catch the rhythm, but his feel for nuance and colour misses no element of Chopin’s infinite imagination, and the balance of earthiness and elegance is well-nigh ideal. Artur Rubinstein’s famous recording has to be the benchmark for these works, but Ohlsson can stand the comparison. He uses more extensive rubato and variety of expression within each work than Rubinstein generally does – his interpretative power is so evocative that it can even put the listener in mind of the Debussy Préludes and of Estampes’s magical slivers of transient activity from time to time. And the sound quality is newer. What makes Rubinstein’s authority so hard to compete with, however, is his inner strength – profoundly poetic yet remarkably straightforward – which imparts a unique sense of ‘rightness’ and inevitability to his decisions. Jessica Duchen