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My Life in Music (Ruth Slenczynska)

Ruth Slenczynska (piano) (Decca)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

My Life in Music
Works by JS Bach, Barber, Chopin, Debussy, Grieg and Rachmaninov
Ruth Slenczynska (piano)
Decca 485 2255   67:41 mins


One of the most famous child prodigies of the 20th century, who made her debut aged four, the 97-year-old pianist Ruth Slenczynska had a remarkable if sometimes curious career. The pressures of being a prodigy might explain an early burnout and temporary withdrawal from music, but she went on to enjoy a solid career and performed for many US presidents, all the way back to Harold Truman with whom she played duets. Now claimed as Rachmaninov’s last living pupil, she also studied with Alfred Cortot, Josef Hofmann and Artur Schnabel. Such a pedigree is self-recommending, but whether any pianist’s reputation is enhanced by recording in their mid 90s is another matter.

Recorded last year, this is clearly an autobiographical portrait, beginning appropriately enough with Rachmaninov, paying tribute to her Polish roots (she was born in Sacramento, California, to emigré parents) with Chopin and also to her friendship with Samuel Barber. Understandably, Slenczynska’s playing is now cautious, almost mechanical in places, with often prosaic results. It is possibly the fault of the recording – clear but too close-up to be flattering – that Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G major feels a little lumpy, and Chopin’s great Fantaisie in F minor emerges squarely. Her affection for Barber comes across in the Nocturne Homage to John Field, one of the most interesting tracks. Grieg, Debussy and Bach complete a bitty picture: listeners wanting to hear commanding technique and musical imagination from Slenczynska should turn to the ten-disc box of her vintage recordings re-released by Eloquence a year ago.

John Allison

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