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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Eugene Mursky (piano)
rec. 2015/16, Grosser Saal, Musikhochschule Trossingen, Germany.
PROFIL PH16100 [72:39 + 69:24]

This is volume 10 in Eugene’s Mursky’s ongoing project to record all of Chopin’s solo piano music for Profil. I haven’t heard the previous discs in this series but if I can judge from this pair I must say Mursky is one of the finest Chopin players before the public today. He simply has a natural feel for the music: he conveys the rhythmic aspects with elegance, spirit and flexibility; he phrases the melodies with an innate sensitivity that always seems to capture their emotional tenor, blends the harmonies in with an unerring sense for the correct balances, and moves from phrase to phrase with a deft grasp both on short term effects and on the overall thrust of the music.

The Mazurka is a Polish dance that so captured Chopin’s imagination that he wrote about sixty pieces in this genre, far more than he composed in any other form, dance or otherwise. Listening to Mursky’s take on these pieces you can picture dancing and merriment (if that’s the sentiment – it could be disappointment or sadness, as in Op. 17, #4), or you can hear the music detached from dance altogether, latching on to its beauty and emotional flow. Mursky catches the panoply of colors and feelings in these works, allowing for many vantage points for the listener. He has an almost uncanny way of closing phrases and moving on to the next: he never sounds calculating as he applies rubato and adjusts dynamics (usually toward the softer side) to effectuate elegance or subtle contrast so as to maximize the expressive yield.

Try his account of the C minor Mazurka (Op. 6, #2) and notice how he deftly brings out both the quirkiness and elegance with his rhythmic elasticity and often shifting dynamics. The ensuing E major is joyous in its chipper, celebratory character. The aforementioned Op. 17, #4 in A minor has rarely sounded so forlorn as here, but Mursky infuses the music with a whimsical sense to counter the gloom somewhat, in the end offering a more colorful and deeper version of the music than is usually presented. Mursky imparts a true quicksilver character to Op. 24, #4 in B minor, the music seeming on the verge of eruption or collapse in the outer sections and unsteady and hesitant in its interior.

Op. 33, #4 finds Mursky plumbing the music for its considerable expressive depth, the elegance seeming so lonely in its gentle, almost desolate character. And again, notice the pianist’s subtle use of dynamics throughout this masterful piece. Mursky’s slight hesitations in Op. 50, #1 in G major are most effectively employed to convey the quirky and playful elements here. In fact, this quality might be singled out as one of the pianist’s signature traits in Chopin interpretation. Lesser artists lack Mursky’s subtlety, often using a sort of start-and-stop approach or a somewhat stiff method of playing that can actually become irritating. His Op 56, #1 has a robustness that he subtly contrasts with a playful manner to yield a greater sense of color than one usually encounters here.

The lighter, more direct character of the three mazurkas in Op. 63 is most charming in Mursky’s hands here: he misses no nuance or refinement and consistently points up the colors and brilliance in Chopin’s masterly writing. In no piece on either disc is there a misfire by Mursky. He is always engaging, never lacking in subtlety or technical skill. Profil affords him excellent sound reproduction on these discs, which were recorded in Germany in September, 2015 and September, 2016. Of the three other sets I have of the complete mazurkas (Biret/Naxos, Fialkowska/Atma, Rangell/Steinway), and of numerous others that I have of partial collections, Mursky’s is easily among the best. Only Fialkowska, a most formidable Chopin interpreter, would be a very good alternative among recent efforts. As for older recordings, Artur Rubinstein’s various accounts—the better ones arguably from the mid-1960s on RCA—are also very excellent. So, the verdict on Mursky—highest recommendations!

Robert Cummings

Previous review: Michael Cookson

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