CHOPIN: 24 Etudes, Op. 10 & Op. 25; Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 59, No. 1; Mazurka in A-flat Major, Op. 59, No. 2; Mazurka in F-sharp Minor, Op. 59, No. 3 – Paul Badura-Skoda, piano – Music & Arts

by | Sep 28, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

CHOPIN: 24 Etudes, Op. 10 & Op. 25; Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 59, No. 1; Mazurka in A-flat Major, Op. 59, No. 2; Mazurka in F-sharp Minor, Op. 59, No. 3  – Paul Badura-Skoda, piano

Music & Arts CD-1230, mono 63:13 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Originally issued by Westminster Records in 1956 (as WL 5241), this remastering is done by Martin Klebahn. Pianist Badura-Skoda (b. 6 October 1927), an eminent pupil of pedagogue Edwin Fischer and the Vienna Conservatory, includes Chopin as part of catholic repertory that embraces Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Schubert and Beethoven as a matter of course. This survey of the two sets of Chopin etudes underlines Badura-Skoda’s fusion of technique and poetic articulation. If the opening C Major Etude from Op. 10 testifies to stretch and endurance by way of a Bach arpeggiated prelude, the sensuality in the E-flat Minor (No. 6) insinuates a painter in hues of lamentation. The No. 3 “Tristesse” tests one’s ability to play melody and accompaniment in the same hand, and Badura-Skoda applies a gossamer touch that does not lapse into maudlin sentiment. The No. 7 “Toccata” flows with gracious ease, as does the F Major, with its etched double-notes. The F Minor brings forth Chopin’s capacity for storm and stress, the wide stretches in the left hand played against the bleak winds from Arnold’s “Dover Beach.” The A-flat No. 10 collides two rhythms in fearful symmetry, the chords gaping ever wider to send the uninitiated plummeting into a pearly abyss. The E-flat Major rolls in liquid sonorities, the metrics uncannily choppy and steady at once. Badura-Skoda plays it with a steady pulse, but he misses the diaphanous ease that Josef Lhevinne could apply. Chopin’s outrage at a wounded Poland cries out in the 1831 C Minor “Revolutionary” Etude. A sense of ritual mourning suffuses the last page in Badura-Skoda’s ripe interpretation.

Chopin in his Etudes seems to have followed the plan of his Preludes, utilizing the circle of fifths for his structural design. Seven of the Op. 10 lie in a major mode, while eight of the Op. 25 pieces lie in the minor. The Op. 25 set both expands the large thoughts and compresses the small ones, even more laconically than in Op. 10. That Op. 10 opens with C Major and A Minor, and the Op. 25 closes with A Minor and C Minor, would appear to consolidate the claim of “fearful symmetry” for these studies.

Badura-Skoda articulates the Aeolian Harp A-flat study with a clear cantabile line, accompanied by a softly variegated series of arpeggios in the bass. The F Minor, nicknamed “The Bees,” skims lightly over a cross-rhythmic surface. The F Major canters at a moderate clip, the registrations shifting in color and degrees of flickering light. The No. 4  in A Minor punches or jabs its way forward, a spiky study in syncopated staccato. Badura-Skoda negotiates the tricky E Minor with alternately daredevil aplomb and a briskly sustained singing line, the short notes values of the upper line played against a rippling bass. The famous G-sharp Minor cascades in thirds, requiring controlled delicacy and poised lucidity. The No. 7 in C-sharp Minor has Badura-Skoda performing a marvelous nocturne or extended vocal scena whose left-hand figurations weep with aristocratic melancholy. No. 8 demands grueling sixths whose stretches often make pianists find fingerings more merciful than the urtext permits. The G-flat in “Butterfly” figurations comes off a trifle heavy with Badura-Skoda, as only Josef Hofmann in my book ever captured the eerie lightness of the score. No. 10 in B Minor wants a tempest, and Badura-Skoda delivers it, the ensuing octaves all legato. His right hand must accomplish two musical lines simultaneously in a relatively sober affect, only to yield at last to the unholy furor of the opening pages. The tempests continue in the A Minor, the so-called “Winter Wind,” which Badura-Skoda rakes at a fast tempo. The unrelenting bass figures keep the ravages of the upper part in check, and the whole makes for a blustery, piquant tone-poem. A monumental grandeur swallows us up in the concluding C Minor Etude, the arpeggios becoming elongated as the melody proceeds. The etude approaches the “wild” West Wind of Shelley, cleaving the oceans for their deepest and darkest secrets.

The three mazurkas of Op. 59 derive from a Fresno concert (13 October 1999), previously unissued. The A Minor’s knotty agogics soon gravitate into three-hand effects, the accents moving to and fro on the second and third beats. The A-flat Major reveals even more a tendency to waltz-rhythm, though its bouncy character never abandons the strong folk element that inspires it. The aristocrat in Chopin transforms the rusticity of the F-sharp Minor into a dazzling ornamental series of turns and roulades. A melancholy air treads over the intricacies beneath, the rhythmic life springing from a shift of accent and a studied separation of tenor, bass, and soprano registers.

–Gary Lemco

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