In a decade of particularly ﬁne recordings of the Chopin Mazurkas, Eugène Mursky’s set of 57 can more than hold its own. Imagination and reﬁnement, aided by Hänssler’s lifelike sound, characterise this 10th volume of a series devoted to all of the music of Chopin, begun in 2004.
A case could be made for the Mazurkas as the ultimate test of the best Chopin-players and, of the myriad qualities required by that treasure trove of dances, rhythm is certainly most crucial. The outstanding characteristic of Mursky’s interpretations is that, despite a wonderful, breathing rubato, one can imagine each Mazurka danced. Within this sure-footed kinaesthesic realm, Mursky works his magic, lingering at the end of a phrase just long enough to capture its poetry before preparing the next gesture. Listening to the natural physicality of these readings, I kept recalling Makarova and Baryshnikov’s exquisite realisation of the Mazurkas in Robbins’s Other Dances.
Mursky also has a keen ear for the subtle implications of Chopin’s rich harmony. The plangent C sharp minor Mazurka (Op 50 No 3) achieves its eloquence through the delicate foregrounding of intricate polyphony. The raucous bagpipe drones of the C major (Op 56 No 2) and E major (Op 6 No 3), vividly characterised in all their rusticity, are shown to be the foundation for the exotic dissonances that transpire above. Mursky isn’t prone to weepiness, even in the most poignantly lyrical of the Mazurkas. This degree of reserve lends Chopin’s more tragic utterances a touching dignity. And if you share my soft spot for young Chopin, the selection of early Mazurkas that follows the canonic set will delight you.
Listening to these bracing, charming and varied Mazurkas, each imbued with the spirit of the dance, one is struck by how few collections of these may claim similar attributes. Mursky’s readings can conﬁdently be placed alongside other distinctive performances of recent vintage, including those of Pavel Kolesnikov (Hyperion, A/16), Janusz Olejniczak (Fryderyk Chopin Institute, 11/16) and Dmitri Alexeev (FCI, 12/15). Patrick Rucker