OF THE MONTH
Dvorak Opera Premiere
A revision of the review originally published in April 2003 of
a disc of Chopin mazurkas purported to have performed by Joyce
Hatto, but now revealed to be by Eugen Indjic
The first complete recording of the Mazurkas,
made by Artur Rubinstein in 1938-9 and available on Naxos, included
Mazurkas – all
those with opus numbers plus "Emile Gaillard" and "Notre
temps". The next pianist to record them complete was Nina
Milkina in 1970, who played the same 51. I have reviewed both
of these and my review of the Milkina recording (a private transfer
licensed by EMI) gives ordering details. Many successive complete
recordings have added a few further pieces. Eugen Indjic includes
two cheery little mazurkas that Chopin published at the age of
16 and another four which, though not published by Chopin, belong
to the same period as the first published sets. The Polish Edition
contains one further example, not recorded here.
My first reaction was that this was something like perfection.
The difficult mazurka rhythms are unfailingly judged, in
so far as my non-Polish ears can tell (that difficult placing
of the second and third beats which is so different from
a waltz or even from a non-Polish mazurka and which is
so hard for the rest of us to get right). The phrasing
is relaxed and musical and the music swings between the
outdoor folkloristic elements and the indoor salon writing
with complete authority. That reservations crept in may
be due to my having listened to too many at a time, for
certain small points began to have a cumulative effect.
For one thing, though the recording is warm and mellow it rarely expands and
one feels at a certain distance from the performer [this is no longer true].
Nina Milkina’s 1970 recording has the microphones perhaps too closely placed
but the sound has more life to it. For another, the slow tempi tend to be very
slow, and some of the more melancholy mazurkas hang fire. Certainly the middle
section of the bleak op. 17/4 fails to take wing. After an exceptionally convincing
op. 56/2, with its bagpipe imitations, the symphonic dimensions of op. 56/3 get
rather skittish treatment. The scale of the piece is not conveyed. On the other
hand, the last group published in Chopin’s lifetime, op. 63, gets some of the
best performances of the set, no. 1 irresistibly Vivace and the other two moving
in their valedictory simplicity. Indjic also finds more than many in the uneven
Probably no one will have the definite solution to every single mazurka. Indjic
is remarkably fine in enough of them for his version to take an honoured place
among the more famous ones. What I should like to do in conclusion is to compare
him with Rubinstein (1938-9) and Milkina, first in three mazurkas in which I
particularly appreciated him, then in three where I was less happy.
One of the folkloristic mazurkas. Indjic is very precise over the placing
of the left-hand accents at the beginning; this is a delightful performance.
Rubinstein is a shade more laboured over the accents and then snatches at the
theme when the right hand enters; bars 11 and 13 aren’t clear at all. However,
Rubinstein and Indjic have the same basic idea. One of the features of Milkina’s
mazurkas is that she often takes "Vivace" to mean "Vivace for
a mazurka" rather than "Vivace in absolute terms". She is quite
a lot slower and gains in grandeur and poetry what she loses in sheer verve.
I am very glad to have two such convincing alternatives available.
Indjic’s gentle cradling movement at the beginning is very attractive and
the different rhythms between the hands are crystal clear. His gentle approach
does not prevent the music from opening out more passionately as it moves into
forte. The Poco più mosso sections are magical in their soft, even fingerwork.
Rubinstein is far more extrovert. The opening is not
dissimilar to Indjic’s, though he is less careful over
the rhythms. As the music heads towards forte he surges
ahead impetuously and his Poco più mosso sections positively
scamper away. He concludes the piece with a grandstand
Milkina is marginally slower than Indjic, but the interesting
thing is how different her whole approach is. She finds
a grandeur in the music and a strength which the others
do not even attempt. Possibly she is the pianist of the
three who makes the most important statement out of this
mazurka but I prefer simply to marvel that a short piece
of music can receive three such utterly different, yet
Having said that Indjic tends to be least convincing in the slow mazurkas,
I must say his gentle, valedictory reading of this one is most touching. Rubinstein
is a shade faster, without any attempt at a valedictory effect. He displays all
the warmth of tone for which he was famous. Milkina is closer in tempo to Indjic
but (though the much closer recording may contribute to this impression) finds
a more epic tone, rising to a note of protest before the recapitulation. I was
particularly impressed by this, but once again, how wonderful to have three such
different yet equally successful performances.
This was the point where I realised that Indjic wasn’t going to have a perfect
solution for every mazurka and it’s only fair to point out that this was perhaps
the one in the whole series that satisfied me least.
One of the most inconsolably melancholy pieces ever
written, the problem is not to let the music become dreary
for lack of contrast. Indjic’s halting main sections are
idiomatic and attractive but the music never seems to get
away from its beginnings. Though Chopin did not mark any
particular change of mood at the first trio section, most
interpreters seem to agree that it has to have a suddenly
stronger profile. If it does not, as here, it risks saying
nothing. The A major section is rather a plod and the final
pages, though well done in themselves, add nothing because
there is nothing for them to die away from.
Rubinstein, at a rather faster tempo, is certainly not
dull but there is something salon-like in his handling
of the filigree passages. Rather than being transported
out into the Polish fields, one sees the lionised pianist
delighting the ladies.
Close recording detracts particularly from Milkina’s
performance in this case. The three crotchet chords in
each bar chug rather literally, but she does find more
contrast than Indjic and a certain grandeur. She at least
takes us into the fields and this is the least unsatisfactory
performance of the three. I must say, though, that, while
Horowitz takes what some might consider appalling liberties,
he is the pianist who really makes this mazurka speak.
Indjic’s performance slips in rather uncertainly. Then at other moments it
dances ahead rather skittishly so one way or another Chopin’s Maestoso marking
is never quite realised. Also, Indjic’s handling of the mazurka rhythm, usually
so true, becomes so mannered at the recapitulation as to hold up the flow of
Rubinstein is not exactly Maestoso either, but he has
a wonderful ardour. Though I wouldn’t forsake his performance,
I am bound to prefer Milkina’s genuinely Maestoso reading
which finds an ardour and a grandeur of its own on the
This is one of the most extended of the mazurkas, practically a ballade in
mazurka rhythm. Indjic’s rather skittish opening does not convey the idea that
this is the beginning of a piece on a large scale. He does find grandeur in certain
moments later on but on the whole the performance proceeds too much section-by-section.
Rubinstein is far more dramatic and though he makes a small cut (presumably to
squeeze it onto a 78 side) he conveys the scale of the piece, as does Milkina
with her steadier tempo. She perhaps makes more than either of the others of
the sostenuto passage in A flat minor.
I would suggest that Indjic’s rather gentle approach,
as though remembering the music from a distance, may be
less than ideal if a large number of mazurkas are to be
listened to at a stretch, but is not necessarily less valid
in itself. The pleasant but not wide-ranging recording
contributes to this effect [I get the idea
the wider-ranging original recording at least alleviates
this impression]. If
forced to buy just one out of the three mazurka sets I
have considered, I would choose, by a small margin, Milkina,
but I am very glad I don’t have to make that choice, for
Indjic’s versions can certainly be added to those that
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