CHOPIN: Etudes (complete; 2 recordings) – Juana Zayas, piano – Music & Arts

by | Dec 8, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

CHOPIN: Etudes (complete; 2 recordings) – Juana Zayas, piano

Music & Arts CD-1229 (2), 63:51; 69:03 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Cuban virtuoso Juana Zayas assumes the mantle of her compatriot Jorge Bolet by traversing the complete sets of Chopin Etudes–twice: in 1983 and in 2005–perhaps to demonstrate her deeper, more expansive approach in the second version, except for the F Minor, Op. 25, No. 2 – which she plays two seconds slower than her first rendition.  For the most part, we will wonder that Zayas required a second version of these taxing pieces, although she would likely argue that the recording process is simply too static a medium to capture the dynamic essence of the music.

The opening flurry of the C Major, Op. 10 Etude from 1983 certainly exerts enough prowess, and the E Major enjoys Zayas’ poetry and bravura, respectively. The sheer demonic impetus of the C-sharp Minor suggests a hurdler at full throttle. The so-called “Black Keys” etude shimmers and warbles with wrist articulation in the first edition; it achieves more interior poetry in the second version. The harmonically audacious E-flat Minor Etude subtlety avoids the tonic resting places we require while the serpentine counterline insinuates chromatic Bach. Zayas’ two approaches to the Toccata Etude in C Major prove strikingly dissimilar; the first dedicated to the fluid linear momentum, the second to the vertical progressions and their harmonic rhythm. The fleet No. 8 in F frolics more in the first edition; in the second degrees of sunlight assert themselves. The relatively glib approach to the F Minor No. 9 in 1983 is replaced by a thoughtful harbinger of fate in 2005. The bravura effect of the A-flat No. 10 and its clarion strokes becomes even more pronounced in 2005, on a par with Liszt’s “leggierezza” etude. The No. 11 in E-flat, with its monster stretches in rolled chords and inflexible, internal rhythm remains fairly constant for Zayas. So, too, the Revolutionary Etude retains its heroically noble, propulsive character, perhaps more convulsively colored in the second rendition.

Chopin’s Op. 25 (1837) tend to favor the minor keys, with the No. 7 in C-sharp Minor providing a major exercise in cantabile for the left hand, a veritable nocturne with tragic overtones. The Aeolian Harp Etude in A-flat sings under Zayas, and the F Major gallops with a decided easy gait and touch of languor. The A Minor receives broader treatment in 2005 than in 1983, its sudden staccati chords and syncopations made more delicious, more incisive. The E Minor undergoes as much transformation as possible, given a common ethos that moves its upper line in short statements that burst forth in the middle section into an aria of liquid beauty. The da capo under Zayas appears drunken, as if Ravel’s morning jester could no longer live with the beauty he had inadvertently touched. Zayas takes the daunting G-sharp Minor etude in thirds at a blinding speed, still imparting a diaphanous patina over its feverish runs. Another tour de force is the etude in perpetual sixths, the D-flat Major, a test of strength condensed into little over a minute of breathless flight. After the quicksilver G-flat’s “Butterfly Wings,” the monster B Minor etude in legato octaves seems a monolith. Zayas’ right hand molds the double melodic lines with more deliberate fervor in 2005, a rendition a half-minute longer in thought as well as reduced in speed. At the da capo for each, all Hell yawns open, as it did for Henry Daniell and Boris Karloff in Val Lewton’s The Body Snatcher. The A Minor has the nickname “Winter Wind,” and certainly Zayas presents two different tempests, though her left hand refuses to budge from its given pulse in either. A descent into the Abyss in either case. The last of the etudes proper, the C Minor, swells with inexorable momentum under Zayas, here realizing one of the great interpretations since Arrau’s on EMI. Frankly, the earlier version packs more tonal wallop than the later, the sheer speed of articulation and frenzied wash of the piece cataclysmic, overwhelming, a tidal wave. The second version allows a pregnant ritard that thrusts us again into the maelstrom with a fierce resignation.

How did Nietzsche put it? “A man would rather will nothingness than not will.”

Zayas first inscribed the Trois nouvelles etudes in 1999, and they compete well with my preferred Arrau versions from EMI, and in better sound. The cross rhythms of No. 1 in F Minor carry a serene tragedy, a lyrical sense of the evanescence of life. The A-flat undergoes little change in Zayas’ two inscriptions, the cross rhythms insistent, an attempt to find cheer in the autumnal air of the translucently ephemeral. The D-flat presents a quick series of knots for each hand, simultaneously legato and staccato. In her later version, Zayas wants the moment to linger just a bit longer, only a few precious seconds that the trill tells us are forever. For the inveterate Chopin collector, these sets of Etudes will provide a document for constant reference.

— Gary Lemco

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01