Notes and Editorial Reviews
CHOPIN 51 Mazurkas • Nikita Magaloff (pn) • DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 5378o (2 CDs: 120:28)
"If I were to compile a list of great musicians whose careers did not live up to their potential on account of bad luck, pianist Nikita Magaloff, who died nearly 20 years ago, would most definitely warrant at least an honorable mention. A close artistic associate of Dinu Lipatti, who personally recommended that he be hired as his replacement at the Geneva Conservatory, Magaloff was an artist with remarkable gifts. Perhaps his most memorable accomplishment is that he was the first pianist ever to record the Chopin opera omnia. “So where is the part about his bad luck?” you might ask. Well, as a Chopin specialist, Magaloff spent much of
his long career in the shadow of other musicians. First, there was Artur Rubinstein, who for several decades enjoyed a largely undisputed monopoly on this repertoire. Then, by the time Rubinstein’s Chopin monopoly began to unravel somewhat in the 1970s, when incidentally Magaloff returned to the studio to record his second traversal of Chopin’s complete works, the world had moved on and the likes of Vladimir Ashkenazy, Maurizio Pollini, and Martha Argerich (who once studied with Magaloff) were the new talk of the town.
The discs presented for consideration here were recorded in the mid 1950s for Decca, and in large part show why Magaloff’s artistry deserves to be better known and why his reputation as a solid and reliable but not all that interesting pianist is not entirely deserved.
In the Chopin mazurkas, Magaloff impresses with his lightness of touch, well-proportioned rubatos, judicious use of the sustain pedal, and appreciation for the ever-shifting rhythmic lilt that characterizes these works. Many readers will likely want to know how Magaloff compares with Rubinstein, whose three (very different) recordings of the mazurka cycle are oftentimes invoked as a yardstick against which to measure all others. Recognizing that we are comparing apples to oranges and using Rubinstein’s second—and arguably finest—performance of the set as the benchmark, I actually find Magaloff to be the more refined pianist. Recognizing that I may also be committing heresy, I find Magaloff’s more nuanced interpretations often to be more interesting than Rubinstein’s, whose occasional brashness and rhythmic drive at times shortchange the subtlety of Chopin’s scores. So, at bottom, I would urge you to get your hands on this recording, because, like the Rubinstein sets, Magaloff’s is one of the finest I have heard. In case you are also wondering how this reading compares to the version Magaloff recorded some two decades later for Philips, I believe that this early version has the edge for its generally fleeter tempos, added spontaneity, and freshness.
The recordings were taped in monaural sound, but the quality is still very impressive.
FANFARE: Radu A. Lelutiu
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