CHOPIN: 23 Mazurkas Composed 1825 – 1833 Presented in Chronological Order – Mordecai Shehori, piano – Cembal d’amour CD 195 (53:57) [www.cembaldamour.com]*****:
Mordecai Shehori embarks on an integral survey and realization of Fredric Chopin’s 59 mazurkas, here organized chronologically, so as to avoid the standard mishaps due to publication dates and the assignment of opus numbers, too often matters of commercial considerations and aspects of music-business publicity. A close reading of the mazurkas expands their national origins beyond the standard, ossified limit of the traditional Oberek, Mazur, and Kujawiak sources and notes the influence of styles besides Poland: elements from Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Moorish Spain, and Romani gypsy styles make their presence felt. Once more, Shehori’s dedication to arduous detail and scholarship reveals not musical paleontology but living, vital musicality.
The problems of the mazurkas – and there persist several – lie in the absence of authoritative, autograph scores, particularly since, other than the three full copies that exist, Chopin consigned the rigors of copying and checks for accuracy to trusted acolytes, like Julius Fontana and Adolphe Gutmann, among others. As a result, matters of dynamics, articulation, tempos, slurs, and individual notes can remain speculative. Chopin reportedly found it musical to vary his realization in performance, so rubato, repeats, and ornamentations could be arbitrary. Even the question of metrics – which Meyerbeer famously debated, claiming that several mazurkas were indeed waltzes – demands considerations in agogics applied to the basic ¾ or 3/8 pulse, so that melodic lines may fluctuate between two and four or expand into an eight-bar phrase with freedom assigned to the traditional bar lines. The fluency and singing character of the line must prevail, so the use of rubato must be chaste and delicate, almost entirely consonant to what a studied vocalist would apply to maintain the dramatic dignity of expression. In this manner, the vocalist’s sense of pitch and timbre must prevail, that sense of just proportion that does not confuse volume with tone color; thus, Chopin could claim with authority that his keyboard extended the art of Bel Canto.
Having decided to proceed chronologically, Shehori allow us in his three volumes, to witness the Chopin identity literally to emerge and blossom before our eyes, as it were. The first volume of 23 mazurkas, composed 1825 -1833, introduces us to the color and variety of melodic phrasing in Chopin, who employs the slur as an indication for glided notes and moments of portamento, legato phrasing, breathed phrasing, marcato, and detached articulations. The A Minor, Op. 68, No. 2 (1827) exhibits aspects of marcato and legato expressivity. The succeeding Mazurka in F Major, Op. 68, No. 3 and that in F Minor, Op. 7, No. 2a exhibit Scottish impulses, both breathed and martial. The earlier Mazurka in B-flat Major (1825) had intimated a Romani color. A true salon sensibility inhabits the rarely played Mazurka in D Major (1829), one of the creations whose metrics Meyerbeer might question. With Op. 6, No. 1 in F-sharp Minor we feel the arrival of a breathed, evolved form whose repetitions enjoy a subtle degree of variety in meter and Pichettato (detached) phrasing. The Op. 6, No. 2 in C-sharp Minor reveals that drama can erupt in soft dynamics. The slurs here engender a smoothly graduated procession, an organic, fluent, melodic line.
Once we reach with Shehori the more familiar territory of Opp. 6, 7, and 17, we can appreciate this pianist’s individual touches that set his renditions apart, as in his rubato in Op. 6, No. 4 in E-flat Minor. With Op. 7, No. 1 in B-flat Major, a Moorish tint emerges as Shehori emphasizes the ornaments. Shehori places two mazurkas from 1832 between the sets Op. 7 and Op. 17, those in D Major and B-flat Major, each with a decided Scottish “fife” color and “snap.” The set of Four Mazurkas, Op. 17 announces the youthful maturity in Chopin, rife with rhythmic variation and dramatic contrast. That in A-flat Major, Op. 17, No. 3 proves an expansively Moorish concept, while those in E Minor and A Minor, No. 2 and 4, respectively, attest to the intimate, tragic potential in Chopin’s compressed, national utterances. The recital concludes with another of the otherwise neglected opera of 1833, the “Scottish” Mazurka in C Major, with a “stamping” motif complemented by elements of a highland reel.
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