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
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.
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.