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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
The Complete Mazurkas
Ryszard Bakst (piano)
rec. 1958
Available as Volume I (FR1926/7: Mazurkas 1-37) & Volume II (FR1928: Mazurkas 38-59)
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR1926-28 [3 CDs: 161:44]

The Polish pianist and pedagogue Ryszard Bakst (1926-1999) made several records, and what there is, as far as I’m aware, remains on LP, apart from this traversal of the complete Chopin Mazurkas, which he set down in 1958. He recorded several LPs in Poland for Polskie Nagrania 'Muza' and in the USA for Westminster. His legacy includes music by Chopin (in addition to the Mazurkas, there are the Preludes amongst others), Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Paderewski and Zarębski. However, it was for his interpretations of Chopin that he’s best remembered today.

Nurtured in the Moscow Conservatory, his teachers included Konstantin Igumnov and Heinrich Neuhaus. In 1968, Bakst emigrated from Poland to Great Britain, where he lived until his death. In addition to his concertizing, he taught piano at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Between the years 1825-1849, Chopin wrote at least 59 Mazurkas for piano. These were based on the traditional Polish folk dance. 58 have been published, 45 during the composer’s lifetime. Of these 41 have opus numbers. 13 have been published posthumously, of which 8 have posthumous opus numbers. Chopin usually published them in groups of three or four. They are some of the composer's most personal musical utterances, teeming with melodic invention.

They encompass a wide, emotional range, some are light in mood and witty, others are dark, somber, melancholic and dramatic. Bakst seems always to capture the spirit of the piece, responding instintively to its character. In each of the mazurkas, the individual idiosyncrasies are addressed, melodies highlighted and mood vividly characterized. Bakst’s full rounded tone, wide colouristic range, sensitive rubato and architectural awareness work well.

He performs these pieces to the manor born, and I was engrossed in his performances from beginning to end. I listened to the cycle over three sittings. It’s worth citing a few examples to illustrate the diversity and wealth of imagination and ingenuity found in these works. Both Op 7 No 2 and Op 17 No 2 have a world-weary presence and wistful melancholy. The Mazurka in A minor, Op 68 No 2 is similarly wrought. Op 68 No 4, the composer’s last composition, is heartrending and imbued with deep sadness. The Mazurka in F-sharp minor, Op 59 No 3 I would describe as lusty and Op 33 No 2 rumbustious and effervescent. Op 63 No 1 has a nervous gait and sounds rhythmically quirky.

The Mazurkas are warmly recorded in stereo, and there’s a gratifying intimacy to the sound. The LP sources are MUZA SXL 1152/4 and WESTMINSTER XWN 18876-8. There are no accompanying liner notes. This cycle constitutes one of the finest of the composer’s Mazurkas I’ve encountered, and is up there with those of Arthur Rubinstein.

Stephen Greenbank

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