Notes and Editorial Reviews
Anna Gourari (pn)
BERLIN 0016662BC (73:10)
The title of this album,
The Mazurka Diary
, may prove baffling to some listeners. It reminds me a little of Che Gueverra’s
The Motorcycle Diaries
. The explanation for the title is to be found in Anna Gourari’s erudite program note: “For me, Chopin’s mazurkas are more than dances or stylized dance music, and represent something like a musical diary which contains childhood memories as well as worldly wisdom, longings, dreams of love, despair, resignation, and presentiments of death. Indeed, dying itself.” Gourari’s enumeration of the “contents” of the mazurkas is impressive. I question, however, the use of the word “diary.” I remain skeptical of any attempt to match Chopin’s compositions with his mood of the moment. Few composers have been motivated so completely by formal concerns as Chopin. Charles Rosen called him the foremost master of counterpoint since J. S. Bach. I think that the form of a work meant more to Chopin than anything he personally was trying to express at the time. To call the mazurkas “a musical diary” is confusing at best and meretricious at worst. Anna Gourari is a very pretty woman, though, and this conceit that she is expressing feelings from someone’s intimate diary may draw some listeners into the music who otherwise would ignore it. Calling this album
The Mazurka Diary
perhaps strains credulity, but I doubt it causes irreparable harm.
Like so many pianists who studied at the Moscow Conservatory, Gourari has a romantic, almost mystical approach to playing Chopin. Her Chopin credentials are impeccable. She won the 1990 International Chopin Competition in Göttingen. In 1994, she took top honors in the first International Clara Schumann Competition in Düsseldorf. The jury there included four of our greatest Chopin interpreters: Nelson Friere, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Martha Argerich, and Alexis Weissenberg. Central to Gourari’s Chopin playing is her beautiful tone, richly hued like chocolate and individual-sounding at all dynamic levels. She can thrill you with the ring of her
, while her pedaling of
passages is highly expressive, a characteristic she shares with Horowitz. She can become impetuous in tempo changes as the music gets louder, but she never goes beyond the borders of good taste and judgment. Chopin’s writing in the mazurkas can seem cryptic at times, but Gourari negotiates the thorniest matters of rhythms and psychological contrasts with a sureness that seems born of her own emotional understanding as an artist. Harold C. Schonberg, the late connoisseur of piano playing, is quoted in the program notes as saying Gourari “has a Friedmanesque approach to the music, free but controlled.” Indeed, in this era of cookie-cutter young pianists, Gourari is a throwback to an age when pianists seemed to breathe a more rarified atmosphere.
The mazurkas on this disc are arranged in their order of publication. This may be helpful to the novice listener, but since the mazurkas were not published chronologically as they were written, other solutions could have presented themselves. Still, the order of the program proves engaging. I would like to point out some of the touchstones of Gourari’s interpretation. Op. 7/1 is capricious and festive, while op. 7/2 features fanfare-like dance rhythms. At 44 seconds in length, op. 7/5 is the shortest mazurka on the disc, yet it receives a fully thought-out, rather wispy reading. A touch of a polonaise rhythm appears in op. 24/1. Op. 30/3 shows that Gourari is not afraid to make a big sound as a contrast to the most delicate passages. The longest mazurka on the disc is op. 50/3; here Gourari brilliantly maintains the rhythmic pulse, no matter how often the tempo changes. Op. 59/2 has moments of unfettered exuberance that one only hears from a greatly gifted artist. And the final mazurka, op. 68/4, is rendered with a most appropriate sighing quality.
Really successful discs of the mazurkas are few and far between. Gourari’s reminds me somewhat of the performance by Witold Malcuzynski, in her ardor and richness of tone. Nevertheless, Gourari is very much her own person, and you can acquire this disc without any fear that you might be duplicating a previous experience. The sound engineering, from the Salzburg Mozarteum, is exemplary. In sum, in spite of the silly title, this CD is strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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