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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ruth Slenczynska: The Legacy of a Genius
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Italian Concerto BWV 971, Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor BWV 903, Toccata in C minor BWV 911, Sonata in D major BWV 963
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849) transcr. Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

6 Chants Polonais
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Consolation no. 1 in E, Hungarian Rhapsody no. 15 in a – "Rakóczy March"
Ruth Slenczynska (piano)
Recorded in San Fransisco, originally released between 1951 and 1952 on the Music Library label
IVORY CLASSICS 64405-70802 [68:39]


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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.

Christopher Howell

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