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CD Review

Frédéric Chopin

The Complete Mazurkas

  • Mazurka #1 in F Sharp minor, Op. 6 #1
  • Mazurka #2 in C Sharp minor, Op. 6 #2
  • Mazurka #3 in E Major, Op. 6 #3
  • Mazurka #4 in E Flat minor, Op. 6 #4
  • Mazurka #5 in B Flat Major, Op. 7 #1
  • Mazurka #6 in A minor, Op. 7 #2
  • Mazurka #7 in F minor, Op. 7 #3
  • Mazurka #8 in A Flat Major, Op. 7 #4
  • Mazurka #9 in C Major, Op. 7 #5
  • Mazurka #10 in B Flat Major, Op. 17 #1
  • Mazurka #11 in E minor, Op. 17 #2
  • Mazurka #12 in A Flat Major, Op. 17 #3
  • Mazurka #13 in A minor, Op. 17 #4
  • Mazurka #14 in G minor, Op. 24 #1
  • Mazurka #15 in C Major, Op. 24 #2
  • Mazurka #16 in A Flat Major, Op. 24 #3
  • Mazurka #17 in B Flat minor, Op. 24 #4
  • Mazurka #18 in C minor, Op. 30 #1
  • Mazurka #19 in B minor, Op. 30 #2
  • Mazurka #20 in D Flat Major, Op. 30 #3
  • Mazurka #21 in C Sharp minor, Op. 30 #4
  • Mazurka #22 in G Sharp minor, Op. 33 #1
  • Mazurka #23 in D Major, Op. 33 #2
  • Mazurka #24 in C Major, Op. 33 #3
  • Mazurka #25 in B minor, Op. 33 #4
  • Mazurka #26 in C Sharp minor, Op. 41 #1
  • Mazurka #27 in E minor, Op. 41 #2
  • Mazurka #28 in B Major, Op. 41 #3
  • Mazurka #29 in A Flat Major, Op. 41 #4
  • Mazurka #30 in G Major, Op. 50 #1
  • Mazurka #31 in A Flat Major, Op. 50 #2
  • Mazurka #32 in C Sharp minor, Op. 50 #3
  • Mazurka #33 in B Major, Op. 56 #1
  • Mazurka #34 in C Major, Op. 56 #2
  • Mazurka #35 in C minor, Op. 56 #3
  • Mazurka #36 in A minor, Op. 59 #1
  • Mazurka #37 in A Flat Major, Op. 59 #2
  • Mazurka #38 in F Sharp minor, Op. 59 #3
  • Mazurka #39 in B Major, Op. 63 #1
  • Mazurka #40 in F minor, Op. 63 #2
  • Mazurka #41 in C Sharp minor, Op. 63 #3
  • Mazurka in A minor "À Émile Gaillard"
  • Mazurka in A minor "Notre temps"
  • Mazurka in B Flat Major, Op. Posth.
  • Mazurka in G Major, Op. Posth.
  • Mazurka in A minor, Op. Posth. 68 #2
  • Mazurka in C Major, Op. Posth. 68 #1
  • Mazurka in F Major, Op. Posth. 68 #3
  • Mazurka in G Major, Op. Posth. 67 #1
  • Mazurka in B Flat Major, Op. Posth.
  • Mazurka in A Flat Major, Op. Posth.
  • Mazurka in C Major, Op. Posth. 67 #3
  • Mazurka in A minor, Op. Posth. 67 #4
  • Mazurka in G minor, Op. Posth. 67 #2
  • Mazurka in F minor, Op. Posth. 68 #4
Janina Fialkowska, piano
Atma Classique ACD22682 150min
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Janina Fialkowska once again demonstrates her mastery in the music of Chopin. I last reviewed a Fialkowska Chopin disc in 2012 and found her playing superb (Atma Classique ACD22666). It was a mixture of works, also released on an Atma Classique CD that generally received high praise. Here in fifty-five Mazurkas Fialkowska captures the soul of Chopin in the genre in which he produced the most works as well as some of his finest and most memorable music.

While Chopin's Mazurkas are often light in mood, many are deep, sometimes conveying a dark or tragic expressive character. But whatever the mood, Fialkowska always seems attuned to the spirit of each piece, whether festive or stately, or sad or playful, or a mixture of these elements. Her way with dynamics and rubato is always tasteful and subtle, nuancing the music in a way lesser pianists cannot quite bring off or even understand. She can play with muscularity but without ever sounding harsh or jolting, and can cut back or increase volume levels on a dime without coming across as abrupt or calculating.

From the very first Mazurka, the F-sharp minor from Op. 6, Fialkowska catches the varying moods in the music with such elegance and sensitivity. Notice how she deftly captures both the youthful whimsy and quirky rumination in that inaugural effort with all shadings of dynamics and perfectly judged rubato. Try her perky rendition of the B Flat major from Op. 7: she spins out the main theme with a hint of hesitation in places to impart a sort of tentative elegance to the music, and it works so nicely. Listen to her light and chipper A-flat major Mazurka from Op. 17 or to the forlorn A minor from the same set, wherein the lovely melancholy theme is phrased with such subtle dynamics and exquisite but sparing rubato.

But it's not just the early Mazurkas that Fialkowska plays well – the middle and late ones are just as effective. Sample her B minor Mazurka from Op. 33 and notice how subtly she contrasts the folkish quality of the main theme with its nervous second subject. It never sounds disjointed or episodic in her hands as it can in other renditions. Try the ebullient G Major from Op. 50, where once again her sense of flow allows for a liberal but well-judged use of rubato. Her thoughtful account of the G Sharp minor from the same set deftly captures both the dark character of the main theme and neurotic ambivalence of the initially celebratory alternate material. The nervous but happy gait of the B major Mazurka from Op. 63 subtly melts into a subdued but unsettled piece, another one of those mysterious little gems from Chopin.

By the way, it's fairly standard to call this collection of fifty-five Mazurkas a complete set, but if you count early versions of the works, juvenile efforts and two incomplete Mazurkas the number rises to sixty-one. That said, those additional Mazurkas are more curiosities than bona fide works.

There are many great Chopin players, including Rubinstein (a Fialkowska mentor), Cliburn, Moravec, and Perahia, to name just a few. Fialkowska now ranks among them. Atma Classique provides vivid sonics and offers insightful notes by Fialkowska, who believes the Mazurkas are the composer's greatest works and calls them "Chopin's life story in music". This is a major release for Chopin and keyboard enthusiasts and highly recommended.

Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings

Trumpet