John Browning = BACH: Ich ruf zu dir, Jesu Christ; CHOPIN: Fantasie in F Minor; Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 53, No. 2; Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 68, No. 4; Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor; SCHUBERT: Impromptu in A-flat Major No. 2 – MSR Recordings

by | Nov 1, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

John Browning = BACH: Ich ruf zu dir, Jesu Christ; CHOPIN:
Fantasie in F Minor, Op. 49; Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 53, No. 2; Mazurka
in F Minor, Op. 68, No. 4; Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35;
SCHUBERT: Impromptu in A-flat Major, D. 935, No. 2 – John Browning,
piano

MSR Recordings mono MS 1120, 50:55 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

One of four CDs which celebrate the artistry of American piano virtuoso
John Browning (1933-2003), this live recital from the Phi Beta Kappa
Auditorium of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia
carries the significant date 22 November 1963, the evening of the
assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Mr. Browning opens
with an announcement of his intention to proceed with an altered
program; and he requests the audience not applaud for the recital items
and stand for the Bach chorale, dedicated to the memory of the late
President Kennedy.

The rest of the program contains some of the most melting
interpretations of Chopin which Browning ever inscribed .as though the
pathos of the occasion softened his otherwise granite patina. The only
intrusion into the Chopin tragic mode is the equally poignant Schubert
theme and variations that comprise his A-flat Major Impromptu. Each of
these pieces has a valedictory aura arising from the solemnity of the
occasion, certainly, but something of the eternal as well.  The
middle section of the Chopin Fantasie had me recalling Oscar Wilde’s
quip that Chopin’s music made him regret the many sins he had never
committed.

Mr. Browning’s introductory remarks and the opening notes are missing
from the Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 63, No. 2, but the lachrymose dance
has a plastic line despite tinny sonics. Tears and raindrops combine in
the Op. 68, No. 4, whose attempt at a more extended line seems doomed.
“And to conclude, the Sonata in B-flat Minor of Chopin.” The fierce
gallop of Chopin’s Doppio movimento is particularly grim; the step-wise
countersubject is beauty pulverized by demonic forces. Breathless, the
Scherzo urges us on as if time had run out. The rapid staccato octaves
are pure Horowitz. If the Scherzo trio did not invoke intimations of
mortality enough, the Marche funebre must have had a devastating effect
on this audience, a pathos only exacerbated by the winter winds of the
Presto, whose sound and fury may well bespeak a universal chaos.

–Gary Lemco

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