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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurkas, Op. 59, Nos. 1-3
Mazurkas, Op. 63, Nos. 1-3
Ballade No. 3 in A flat major, Op. 47
Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52
Polonaise No. 5 in F sharp minor, Op. 44
Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53 "Heroic"
Mazurka No.4 in F minor, Op. 68
Piotr Anderszewski (piano)
Recorded at Air Lyndhurst Studios, England, June 2003
VIRGIN CLASSICS 45620 [60:27]


Piotr Anderszewski is quickly becoming one of our most highly esteemed pianists. He has done this by tackling the music of the most popular composers including Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. Now he offers a Chopin recital of Mazurkas, Ballades and Polonaises.

As with his previous recordings, Anderszewski gives Chopin’s music a distinctive flavor. The detail of musical lines is very impressive, tempos are among the slowest on record, drama is highlighted with abundant strength, the pianism is superb and dynamic range is as wide as on any other Chopin disc I have heard.

Of course, the above features are relatively generic and do not tell us whether Anderszewski immerses himself in Chopin’s soundworld. Unfortunately, I am not convinced of Anderszewski’s immersion and can only give the disc a mild recommendation.

The Mazurka performances are the most problematic on the program. Chopin made famous this home-spun dance form, always maintaining its life-affirming and vibrant nature. I find that Anderszewski neuters Chopin’s Mazurkas, avoiding the rhythmic snap that makes this dance so unique. First, Anderszewski’s tempos are very slow, the Mazurka Op. 63, No. 2 being particularly stagnant. Second, Chopin’s jagged rhythmic patterns and tugging of musical lines are largely absent. The result sounds more akin to a nocturne than mazurka. Switch to the recent Andrew Rangell recording on Dorian, and we hear a vibrancy only hinted at from Anderszewski. Even the last recording of the Mazurkas by Arthur Rubinstein conveys more life. Overall, I consider these performances by Anderszewski quite wayward and merely attractive music-making.

The remaining four works on the disc go much better:

Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op. 44 – This is a very powerful work having three main sections. An ominous introduction gives way to a highly demonstrative first section of tremendous weight and energy. Although a softer refrain eventually enters, it is quickly erased by the second section that is built on a menacing ostinato (the continued repeating of a short melody from a lower voice). For the third section, Chopin gives us a gorgeous Mazurka that flows like silk. The first section is then reprised, but not until it is re-introduced ever so slowly from the bowels of Hell.

Anderszewski’s performance is in the 12-minute range, and I had some trouble finding another version as lengthy. However, Evgeny Kissin on RCA also gives this work a slow presentation and represents an excellent comparison to the Anderszewski. Both versions place higher priority on intensity than propulsion, but Anderszewski sometimes gets bogged down in detail. Kissin’s is a mighty interpretation, loaded with menace and tremendous bursts of energy. Yet, he also offers a lovely mazurka section, and his transition to the reprised first section is the darkest and most foreboding one I’ve every heard. Anderszewski can’t match Kissin in the F sharp minor.

Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53 – The "Heroic" is Chopin’s most popular Polonaise and feeds on ceremony and swagger. Although still quite slow, Anderszewski maintains impressive drive and determination. His detail is stunning, as is the menace that often invades the work.

Ballade in A flat major, Op. 47 – Two gorgeous themes and a dramatic contrasting section in C sharp minor form the foundation for Op. 47. Anderszewski is sensational in the C sharp minor section with abundant power, angst and pinpoint detail. The two lovely themes are a different matter; the first theme drags a little through empty spaces, and the second has a perfunctory flavor. One of my current favorite versions, from Jean-Marc Luisada on RCA "Repertoire", serves up a compelling lyricism missing from Anderszewski’s performance.

Ballade in F minor, Op. 52 – Anderszewski’s best performance on the disc features strong and intense drama blended with revealing detail. I’ve not heard the driving conclusion played with such a glorious combination of determination, logic and inevitability. I love the expressiveness of the Philippe Entremont version on Sony, but Anderszewski surges ahead on superior sweep and continuity.

In conclusion, this excellently recorded disc has much in its favor in terms of pianism and an exceptional account of the Ballade in F minor. However, my opinion is that his Mazurka performances miss the essential characteristics of this dance form. Those who have a different conception than I do of the Mazurkas might find the disc thoroughly rewarding.

Don Satz

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