CHOPIN: 4 Scherzos; Polonaise No. 1 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 26, No. 1; Polonaise No. 2 in E-flat Minor, Op. 26, No. 2; Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat Major, Op. 61 – Zeynap Ucbarasan, piano – Eroica Classical Recordings

by | Jun 23, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

CHOPIN: 4 Scherzos; Polonaise No. 1 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 26, No. 1; Polonaise No. 2 in E-flat Minor, Op. 26, No. 2; Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat Major, Op. 61 – Zeynap Ucbarasan, piano – Eroica Classical Recordings JDT3451, 77:01 [] ****:

I have had occasion to audition Zeynap Ucbarasan prior, in her work on Schubert; she has recently surveyed the Mozart sonatas. Her relatively standard program of Chopin makes me wonder how different are the approaches to Schubert and to Chopin that set them apart, besides the notes? Ucbarasan, a product of the Istanbul Academy, the Liszt Academy, and studies at USC Los Angeles, does not convey a “Viennese” style, nor would I characterized her playing as Polish or French. Hers is a clean, polished, bold but limpid style (rec. 19-21 April 2010) that seems to me eminently American, with a hard patina that I might easily mistake for John Browning or Barbara Nissman.

Militancy and poetry mark her rendition of the two Op. 26 Polonaises, the C-sharp Minor rife with aristocratic, albeit militant, nostalgia and a touch of wistfulness for a lost way of life. The Steinway Ucbarasan plays has a singularly bright tone, a tad “pingy” top but a fulsome and resonant middle range, burnished bass tones. The musical coating is not particularly warm, but it has pungency and depth. The florid passages and bold assertive figures remain stylish and aurally becoming, with little of what we could call mannerism. The explosive E-flat Minor enjoys a bravura panache in Ucbarasan’s rendition, a powerhouse of volatile seditious energy. The middle section does nod overtly to the Polish national spirit, with flecks of oberek in its metric pulse.

The 1832 B Minor Scherzo receives the demonic treatment from Ucbarasan, restive and  Byronic. The B Minor/B Major colors come through, including passing Neapolitan chords, some of them built on all ten fingers. A great repose occurs in the Polish noel, a bittersweet moment of recollection whose plagal cadences foretell the conclusion to this tumultuous masterwork. Ucbarasan consumes the brilliant scales and arpeggios of the last pages–their rising up over four octaves–with thrilling passion.  The popular 1837 B-flat Minor Scherzo balances dramatic triplets and pregnant silences in the course of a massive journey, in which plaintive song in D-flat Major is an essential part. Chopin wanted this piece to be  incredibly questioning and soft, qualities the modern Steinway can eschew with ease. Ucbarasan does bring a melodious piety and exuberant fluency to the middle section, a kind of lyrical and glittering duet.

The 1839 C-sharp Minor Scherzo projects a rather punishing tone from the Steinway, but the “terse and ironic” content of this virtuosic piece shines through in every measure. Ucbarasan does not rush its pages, and the D-flat Major/E Major chorale theme rather basks in her scintillating arpeggios. Ucbarasan’s octave technique proves strong; but more to the point, her block chords have character. The arpeggios gain in thickness, the texture approaching what Louis Kentner called a “Wagnerian” melody, and the momentum–including fierce stretti—rises in double octaves to a potent and convincing conclusion in the tonic major. The most elusive of the Scherzi, the 1842 E Major plays like an extended improvisation in sonata-rondo form, a caprice with a dark, even profound, trio section. Some of the early filigree from Ucbarasan I find too stentorian, but her application softens to lyrical persuasion as we proceed into the development, allowing the inner repose of the music to flourish, especially as this plastic and mercurial scherzo seems relatively sane and less morbid in mien than its fellows.

At last, the 1846 hybrid Polonaise-Fantasy, the perennial favorite of Rubinstein and Horowitz. The late piece relishes its vertical harmonic being more than any impulse of heroism, martial grandeur, or regal bravura. Its intricacies turn inward, and its structure seems a maze of starts and stops, of ominous chords, trills in succession, recitatives, and a polonaise rhythm that delights in octave triplets in the accompaniment. If it were not for its overt, Romantic rhetoric, the through-composed piece could have been penned by Bach or Beethoven. It moves in its staggered way to B Major, and whatever consolation it brings, sudden storms and outbreaks disturb its melancholy glance. Ucbarasan does a splendid job in holding the diverse and even contradictory aspects of this massive work together, a labor of obvious love.

–Gary Lemco

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