Chopin took the genre of the Polish mazurka and made it his own, composing some 58 “official” works, making it the most active vehicle for his experiments in the form. Chopin’s flexible approach to the basic rhythmic pulse set off his critics, like Meyerbeer, who complained that the beats conformed more to the waltz—see the middle section of the C Major, Op 33, No 3—than to the national dance, but Chopin resisted and often dismissed their critiques. Chopin invented rather than copied the forms he notated, and so he remains less an ethnographer than an original. Since Chopin freely utilized his opera in the form as he saw fit, Pavel Kolesnikov (rec. 22-24 August 2015) follows suit and selects mazurkas freely from among the collections published 1826-1845. We have, then, a compressed survey of the Chopin style in the form as it evolves from Chopin’s early chromatic harmony to intricately sophisticated studies in polyphony and cross-rhythm.
Chopin composed mazurkas essentially throughout his entire career, a lyrically national life’s journey, and Kolesnikov gives us one in B-flat Major (KKIIa/3) from 1826 Warsaw, which Chopin claimed, perhaps apocryphally, having improvised. The Op. 68, No. 2 in a (1827) was published posthumously, and its studied, aristocratic pace, gilded by gentle trills, became an Artur Rubinstein staple. We hear dances based on the mazur, the kujuwiak, and the oberek, whose national character remain intact despite Chopin’s not quoting any folk melody directly. In the g, Op. 24, No. 1, Kolesnikov imparts a lovely sway to the rubato Chopin demands. The C Major, Op. 24, No. 2 once more raises the hackles of those who bicker over its shifts from 2/4 to 3/4, abetted by askew accents.
The famed, tragic utterance of the Op 17, No 4 in a appears intensely inward in its chromatic dissonances, a favorite of Ivan Moravec. Kolesnikov provides its middle development with a particularly martial emphasis. Dinu Lipatti, for me, was the first to introduce the intricacies of the c-sharp minor, Op 50, No 3 (1842), with its fusion of Bach canon, modal harmonies, and a complex coda, a mixture of Poland and German academicism. Kolesnikov bestows upon this wonderfully diverse piece a decidedly sensuous patina. No less imposing, the c, Op 56, No 3 (1844), explores—at length, almost a ballade unto itself—a series of “circuitous routes” harmonically, into “the heart’s sanctuary.” A gem of sustained compression, the e, Op 41, No 1(1838), Andantino, builds upon a cadence figure that gains considerable power under Kolesnikov’s hands.
There exist any number of minor miracles to be gleaned in this collection—I recall what a fine job William Kapell made of the eighteen he recorded, and how wondrous Horowitz is in these pieces—such as the b, Op 30, No 2, that drops its opening motif and flurries into f-sharp. Or the potent Mazurka in f-sharp minor, Op 59, No 3 of 1845, in which Bach’s influence once more has been absorbed seamlessly within a context of national passion and refinement.
For those who wish to supplement their full edition as played by Artur Rubinstein, this set should more than suffice. The piano sound from engineer David Hinitt emanates a warm and crisp range of tones from the Wyastone Estate Steinway.