Chopin: Complete mazurkas

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: ATMA
WORKS: Complete mazurkas
PERFORMER: Janina Fialkowska (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ACD2 2682

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Janina Fialkowska’s Chopin credentials are a matter of record. At her best, she is among the truly great. In this latest release her authority, imagination, pianistic command and stylistic flexibility are profoundly impressive. And so they need to be. Nowhere is Chopin more subtle and challenging than in his finest mazurkas, some of which contain counterpoint worthy of Bach (unexaggeratedly conveyed here in No. 41) and harmonies prophetic of Wagner, Debussy, even Schoenberg (ditto No. 35).

Texturally translucent, melodically compelling, formally gripping, expressively comprehensive – keeping all this in balance, without cost to the music’s spontaneity and variety, is a major achievement. The key to success here is rhythm – a balancing act in itself, consisting alike in contrasting measurements of time (the long and the short of it all) and dynamic inflection (the infinitely subtle interplay of louder and softer; the emulation, at its subtlest, of natural speech). It’s in the latter element, and perhaps only there, that Fialkowska seems to me to falter. Her rubato – her rhythmic flexibility and manipulation of momentum – is generally masterly and often inspired, full of sophisticated unpredictability. My problem is with a prevailing sameness of inflection, in particular an insufficiency of diphthongs and of elided ‘vowels’. I hear too many consonants, too many angular divisions, too little variety of intensity and colour. In speech, many syllables are scarcely voiced. So, surely, should be the case in music.

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Jeremy Siepmann