This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
There might be two rather different values attaching to a 'complete' recording of such a genre as the Chopin Mazurkas. One would be the encyclopaedic value: you could use the records as a work of reference, taking them down from their place on your shelves to consult whatever point might arise for your scrutiny. For a recording to serve this purpose, the individual pieces can be played exactly as they would be played individually or in small groups on the concert platform. That was clearly the approach of Artur Rubin-, stein when he made the first complete recording of the Mazurkas in 1938-9. Each mazurka was presented as a separate microcosm, with all the differentiation of tone and rubato at the player's command used to project dynamic
contrasts within every separate expression.
But a complete recording raises another possibility as well. If one is going to have a recording of all the Mazurkas, whose composition spanned virtually the whole of Chopin's creative life, then one might want to see what chronological listening through the entire series could suggest of the composer's evolving spiritual life. And for that purpose, a performance which insists on variety within each mazurka— as opposed to variety from one mazurka to the next—might be less useful. The possibility of 'through-listening' to a genre as large as the Chopin Mazurkas lies essentially outside concert-room probabilities. But it is precisely this full look at the possibility of 'through-listening' that gives Ronald Smith's new recording its immediate and unique distinction among the various complete performances now available on disc. Neither Nikita Magaloff (Decca) nor Nina Milkina (Pye Virtuoso) seems to me to possess the stature necessary for any such gigantic projection. And Rubinstein, as befits a man of his generation, was essentially interested in other things.
If you select any individual mazurka for comparison, you will most likely find that the Rubinstein performance of 1938-9 is more animated—perhaps more 'idiomatic' to the style of piano playing we have become accustomed to for Chopin's music. Ronald Smith makes use of a dynamic range as wide as Rubinstein's, and his rhythmic contrasts are just as bold. But Smith's tone is more consistently dark than Rubinstein's; and his rubati move (to my ears) more consistently round the shapes actually written into Chopin's music, less with the paradoxes of the performer intervening. If you're tempted to conclude from a single mazurka, however, that Ronald Smith serves Chopin less well than Rubinstein, then try the comparison of a whole set of three or four mazurkas together—or better still, several sets in sequence. My own feeling is that with Rubinstein, the infallible animation of intense contrast within each piece is so great that every mazurka becomes a total microcosm which exquisitely spurns combination with its neighbours. After a few of these mazurka-performances from Rubinstein—individually marvellous as they are— I find myself turning away from the gramophone so filled with what I've been listening to that further concentration just isn't possible for a while. So I cannot have from Rubinstein the experience which I've had over and over again from the new records of Ronald Smith. That is the experience of moving forward from one mazurka to the next, from one opus to the next, as if through the composer's autobiography. And thus the new recording seems to give breathtaking views of the broadest landscapes—a countryside wherein the pulses and cycles of nature have attuned themselves to the national yet specially intimate triple-beat of mazurka rhythm, astoundingly varied through all the emotions of intensely individual experience, yet persistent as the pulse which makes the physical basis for life itself in all of us. To have a series of records which can do that is to have a means of understanding something both large and vital about the composer and his music.
-- Gramophone [5/1975]
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