Notes and Editorial Reviews
Four Ballades. Barcarolle. Nocturne in B,
Hélène Tysman (pn)
OEHMS 894 (2 CDs: 83:39)
In an amusing imagined dialogue with Chopin that is included in the notes, the young French pianist Hélène Tysman argues for the independence of
the performer. She asserts that “the interpreter is a creator,” and that the composer is “a product of the world that surrounds him.” We are the product of a different world and shouldn’t be expected, it is implied, to submit ourselves to the vision of another era. In fact, the music comes through the composer in the same way as it comes through the performer, and lives outside his personality and expectations.” (The dialogue is originally in French, and there’s a verbal joke that only makes sense in that language: Tysman mentions the UrText, and Chopin snorts “Our Text,” and complains that the English have taken over everything.)
As one might expect given this conversation, Tysman’s Chopin playing is hardly restricted by the Urtext I now have on my lap. She is what earlier generations would have called temperamental, except that I am not sure what those generations would have made of Glenn Gould, whose ideas she praises. The First Ballade begins with a string of octaves in the left hand. Tysman fools with their rhythms with subtle delays. She exaggerates each pause and held note, including of course the B? that brings us into the body of the work. So this piece begins to sound like a tug of war between what Chopin wrote and what Tysman wants to do with it.
Here’s the surprise. Though I would never recommend these performances as the first to listen to, I find them in their own eccentric way musical. She plays with a lovely tone throughout. The beginning of the Second Ballade sounds like a gentle musing over a theme. One would be hard put to dance to her mazurkas, but they never quite lose the forward motion. I surely prefer more innocent versions of the barcarolle, and yet there is something appealing in Tysman’s playing except when a pause is extended a moment too long, or a crescendo exaggerated. My reaction is finally mixed. On the cover of the two disc set, the pianist is shown balancing on the rail of a trolley. I imagine that her playing is a similar kind of balancing act that dramatizes the relationship between her own personality and that of the composer. Her technique is impeccable and the sound of the recording excellent.
FANFARE: Michael Ullman
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