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Ivory Classics are certainly committed to bringing
the work of Ruth Slenczynska before the public. I gave a summary of
her remarkable curriculum in my review
of her recently-recorded Schumann disc (64405-71004) and refer readers
to that. There is also a selection of live recordings – "Ruth Slenczynska
in Concert" (64405 70902) – plus the present reissue of the small
group of recordings she made on the occasion of her return to concert
giving at the beginning of the 1950s.
The record company pitches its claims very high, and
the title "The Legacy of a Genius" invites us to consider
what, in the context of an art which is normally seen as interpretative
rather than creative, being a genius actually means. Well, if you listen
through the wretched sound and the swimming bath acoustic of the mythical
Guido Agosti’s recording of the Bach Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue (AURA
205-2), your reaction to his arresting opening statement, to the way
he pitches into the first section as if his life depended on it, to
his organ-like blurring of outlines to produce unexpected chordal progressions,
to his voice-leading in the fugue and to the sheer sense of divine madness
about the performance, might cause you to think, "That’s genius
if anything is!" Slenczynska’s beautifully played, highly musical
rendering is hardly on such an exalted level, yet we should not despise
the merely admirable, for this is clear-headed Bach-playing well worth
hearing. My only specific doubt was that, while faster movements are
always well-shaped, certain slower sections, such as the "Largo"
of the Toccata, plod a little. I found her habit of splitting the hands
– a habit she had not lost when she recorded Schumann nearly half a
century later – rather a trial at these points.
The Chopin/Liszt is delightfully fresh and lively,
but I find it odd that an artist with (I presume) Polish blood in her
makes such an un-Chopin-like sound; maybe the culprit is Liszt, but
these are performances for the drawing-room rather than outpourings
of the Polish spirit. The Liszt Consolation is nicely turned and the
Rhapsody shows considerable virtuosity and panache. It would deserve
cheers in the concert hall, but on disc we have to remember all those
Liszt interpreters – Horowitz in primis – who really do deserve
the name of "genius".
The recordings are very good for their time, only displaying
a degree of distortion in the stronger passages. The record comes with
a full account of the pianist’s career and detailed notes on the music.
As you will gather, I am not convinced that gold has been mined here,
but piano-fanciers will wish to catch up on a fascinating figure.