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The Maryla Jonas Story: Her complete piano recordings
rec. 1946-51 SONY88985391782 [4 CDs: 193:07]
Maryla Jonas’ recorded legacy has been reissued before but here Sony, the parent company, now does the honours over four erratically filled discs – this is an ‘original album’ offering, at least in part, so they correspond to LP timings – taken from the original discs and tape masters using 24bit/192 kHz technology. Facsimile sleeves and labels are included and full discographical notes as well as a short essay by Jed Distler.
That said, perhaps the first port of call for listeners wanting to get to grips with the totality of her achievement on disc is Christopher Howell’s article on this site, which is pretty much required reading, critically and biographically, as well as including Michael Gray’s discography of the pianist’s recordings. Subsequent to the appearance of that article in February 2017, a review of the St Laurent Studio CDs that also house her complete recordings was published, written by Stephen Greenbank.
It’s always the hope that when a box devoted to an artist appears it includes previously unpublished recordings or at least unpublished takes that may (or may not) shed some light on approaches to particular works. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here and whether any material has eluded compilers or awaits discovery is uncertain. I haven’t heard the Jonas releases on St Laurent, two twofers, one devoted to the 78s and the other to the LPs, but I have heard a number of their releases and tend to like their honest-to-goodness approach that preserves surface noise and doesn’t suppress treble. I can say that Sony’s restorations are unproblematically fine.
Most of her recordings were given over to Chopin and therefore three of the four discs are devoted to the composer. Her name has become almost synonymous with that of the Mazurkas and as the article and review noted reinforce, her playing was of truly elevated status. She manages to vest them with a magnetic sense of inner life and characterisation – as she does with Op 67/2 – or to sculpt the music’s gravity (try Op.68/3) with unforced humanity. There are also matters of hand balancing, colour, rubati, and pedaling to consider - a representative example of her many virtues is in Op.17/4 – but she is also a vivid interpreter of Nocturnes too. In her hands the B major, Op.32/1 is a veritable psychodrama but she balances the melancholy and the lilting flexibilities of the E minor, Op.72/1 just as persuasively. Maybe the few examples of her Etudes leave a mixed impression, given that the F minor, Op.25/2 is rather dapper, and the Waltz Op.64/2 is too metrically indulgent. But otherwise these recordings do, fortunately, overwhelmingly live up to the legend of her Mazurkas and the remainder of her Chopin items are never less than noteworthy and sometimes much more.
The fourth CD collects her non-Chopin repertoire, largely culled from her Piano Miniatures LP. Many of these are infectiously vivid performances – the Handel Passacaglia is buoyant, the Dussek saved from a shallow recording by the pianist’s tonal warmth and lovely phrasing, the WF Bach full of cultured clarity, and the Mozart Alla turca taken at face value and not served to the gallery with a wink. The Schubert-Liszt Stšndchen is replete with dappled voicings and Mendelssohn’s May Breezes Song without Words unusually expressive. Her Casella brace from the 11 Pezzi infantili – nice repertoire – is witty but her Schubert Impromptu in G flat major comes to a bit of a grinding halt in places. She wasn’t the only pianist to offer up a sequence of those tiny Schubert waltzes; Myra Hess played her own sequences for many years – as well as German Dances, Lšndler and Ecossaises. Her Kinderszenen ends this disc. It’s a recording that incarnates all her best qualities – rich rubati (sometimes almost capricious), a dazzling, wrong-footing quality as well as poetic generosity. Though she’s digitally more commanding than the elderly Carl Friedberg she’s not as searching, though hers remains a rather beautiful reading.
The difference in sound between some of the 1946-1949 and the 1951 recordings can be stark – the former flat and a touch lifeless, the latter far more open and sonically revealing. Jonas admirers now have two sets to choose between though clearly the Sony is much the cheaper. Either way the sequence of Chopin Mazurkas she left behind remains a central recommendation even now and everything she recorded is stamped with individuality.
Mazurka in B-flat major op. posth. no. 2
Mazurka in F minor, op. 68, no. 4
Mazurka in G major, op. 67 no. 2
Mazurka in B minor, op. 30, no. 2
Nocturne in E minor, op. 72 no. 1, op. posth.
Nocturne in C-sharp minor, op. posth.
Waltz in G-flat major, op. 70, no. 1
Waltz in D-flat major, op. 70, no. 3
Polonaise No. 9 in B-flat major, op. 71, no. 2
Mazurka in F major, op. 68, no. 3
Mazurka in G major, op. posth. no .3
Mazurka in C minor, op. 56, no. 3
Mazurka in E minor, op. 41, no. 2
Mazurka in A-flat major, op. 41, no. 4
Mazurka in C minor, op. 30, no. 1
Mazurka in A-flat major, op. 24, no. 3
Mazurka in A minor, op. posth. ‘Notre temps’
Mazurka in C-sharp minor, op. 30, no. 4
Mazurka in E minor, op. 17, no. 2
Mazurka in C major, op. 24, no. 1
Mazurka in A minor, op. 17, no. 4
Mazurka in A-flat major, op. 17, no. 3
Mazurka in A minor, op. 59, no. 1
Mazurka in G-sharp minor, op. 33, no. 1
Mazurka in A minor, op. 67, no. 4
Mazurka in C-sharp minor, op. 63, no. 3
Mazurka in C major, op. 7, no. 5
Nocturne in E-flat major, op. 9, no. 2
Nocturne in B major, op. 32, no. 1
Nocturne in G minor, op. 15, no. 3
Nocturne in B-flat minor, op. 9, no. 1
Nocturne in F minor, op. 55, no. 1
Polonaise No. 1 in C-sharp minor, op. 26, no. 1
…tude in E-flat minor, op. 10, no. 6
…tude in F minor, op. 25, no. 2
Waltz in B minor, op. 69, no. 2
Berceuse in D-flat major, op. 57
Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat major, op. 29
Waltz in C-sharp minor, op. 64, no. 2
Georg Frideric HANDEL: Passacaglia in G minor
Jan Ladislav DUSSEK: Consolation, op. 62
Wilhelm Friedemann BACH: Capriccio
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART: Sonata No. 11 in A Major: Turkish March
Franz SCHUBERT (arr. LISZT): Songs: Serenade in D major
Virgil THOMPSON: Ten Etudes: Music Box Lullaby in E-flat major
Felix MENDELSSOHN: Song without Words No. 1 in G major, op. 62
Felix MENDELSSOHN: Song without Words No. 4 in G minor, op. 102
NICHOLAS (probably VILLA-LOBOS) Music box in G major
CASELLA: Children’s Suite: IV, Bolero; XI, Galop Final
ROSSI: Andantino in C major
SCHUBERT: Impromptu in G-flat major, D899, op. 90, no. 3
SCHUMANN: Kinderszenen, Op. 15