CHOPIN: 21 Mazurkas – Vassily Primakov, piano – Bridge 9289 [Distr. by Albany] *****:
In Malcolm MacDonald’s superb program notes to this disc, he quotes the British composer Havergal Brian who comments on Chopin’s mazurkas in a 1932 article: “Chopin’s mazurkas lead us into a strange land – the twilight of dreams whose boundless groves veil sounds and sights in perpetual mist. It is the tomb of expired love. …Many are songs without words. Their difficulty lies in the equipoise of melody and accompaniment; for the former must be phrased as though sung, interspersed with breath marks.”
In this superb recital, the 30 year old Russian pianist Vassily Primakov selects 24 of Chopin’s mazurkas composed throughout his lifetime, and performs them with a sensitivity that pays tribute to these heartfelt dances that sprang from Chopin’s Polish heritage, while capturing the elements that point toward the twentieth century. In the Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4, the harmonic intervals in the first section sound improvisatory, like something you would hear in a jazz bar, full of yearning and regret. The middle section is harmonically more conservative, yet haunting and mesmerizing. Primakov minimalizes the pedal, making his sound very transparent. In the opening chords of Mazurka in B Flat Minor, Op. 24, No. 4, Chopin anticipates the music of the twentieth century by using dissonances and chromaticism. In this Mazurka, Primakov’s well-judged rubato is especially well-controlled, here, maintaining the piece’s musical line.
Throughout these performances, Primakov straddles the middle ground between an overly romantic and overly dramatic interpretation. He uses rubato to express Chopin’s articulation of the musical line with a rhythmic flexibility that does not sacrifice metrical integrity. In Mazurka D Flat Major, Op. 30, No. 3, a good example of one of Chopin’s more dance-like Mazurkas, Primakov uses rubato with some latitude, but it’s tastefully handled without distorting the expressive logic of the work. The overt tempo does elastically stretch and shrink, but the internal tempo remains steady, which respects Chopin’s disciplined refinement, a characteristic of the Classical period. The dynamics are well judged, so that the forte parts are not harshly strident, and the colors inherent in the softer sections are allowed to emerge. It’s a great example of Primakov’s technical control, artistry and musicianship.
This disc is a great way to selectively experience these pianistic gems, and it marks the appearance of a first-rate Chopin artist. Close, but appropriately resonant sound. Highly recommended.
— Robert Moon