Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Twenty-nine mazurkas [66:43]
Twenty-two mazurkas [59:08]
Russell Sherman (piano)
rec. 23-25 June 2007, Jordan Hall, Boston, USA
AVIE 2262 [66:43 + 59:08]
Russell Sherman’s Chopin mazurkas tend to be fast, at a sort of trotting pace, and not always in a good way. The popular Op. 7/1 is a case in point: it glitters at this speed, comes across as a cheery romp, but also feels somehow intangibly ‘wrong’, like something’s amiss. Maybe it’s because Sherman stops to smell no roses. Just compare the 1:43 here versus Garrick Ohlsson’s 2:21 or Ivan Moravec’s 2:18.
Others who have listened to these recordings have used words like “wilful” and “fussy”. Sherman, 77 years old when this was recorded and 82 now, seems to be playing into some kind of stereotypical old-man persona, cranky and weird and uncaring what you think. So why on earth do I feel like I actually enjoyed these two CDs? Maybe it’s simply the new light in which he recasts the music, the weird ways he takes some of my absolute favorite pieces and renders them in ways I’d never imagine. Maybe it’s the moments of genuine inspiration, like the repeated notes in Op. 41/1. Would I have ever played Opp. 17/1, 24/4, or 30/4 (left-hand chords so terse) this way? No. Am I confused by the weird combination of soft, sad touch and hectic rhythm in Op. 50/3? Yes. Am I strangely glad to have heard these pieces in Sherman’s clipped, undanceable fashion? Yes, for some reason. Am I likely to turn to this set instead of Ohlsson or Rubinstein? No.
Those seeking Russell Sherman at his best should listen instead to his superb Beethoven concertos series with the Czech Philharmonic and Vaclav Neumann. It too is different, but I find it a rewarding treasure, not a curiosity. These mazurkas are for the Chopin lover who enjoys listening with a critical ear and being challenged by interpretations outside the mainstream. Are they interesting? Yes. Are they very good? I honestly don’t know.
Are these eccentric readings of the Chopin mazurkas interesting? Yes, they are. Are they good? I can’t be sure.