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Review - Fanfare Magazine

MAZURKAS FROM CHOPIN TO ADÈS — Dina Duisen (pn)— (62:50) Available from

CHOPIN Mazurkas: in c♯, Op. 41 No. 1; in C, Op. 21 No. 2; in B♭, Op. 7 No. 1. LISZT Mazurka brillante, S 221. SAINT-SAËNS Mazurkas: in g, Op. 24; in b, Op. 66. TCHAIKOVSKY Mazurka de salon in g, Op. 9 No. 3. Mazurka in d, Op. 39 No. 11. LIADOV Mazurkas: in F, Op 38; in f, Op. 57 No. 3. ALBÉNIZ Mazurka de salon Sofia, Op. 66 No. 4. ARENSKY Mazurka in G, Op. 53 No. 4. DEBUSSY Mazurka in f♯, L 67. DELIUS Mazurka. SIBELIUS Mazurka in A, Op. 34 No. 3.SCRIABIN Mazurkas: in D♭, Op. 40 No. 1; in F♯, Op. 40 No. 2. GLIÈRE Mazurkas, Op. 29: No. 1 in b; No. 2 in A♭; No. 3 in B♭. SZYMANOWSKI Mazurkas, Op. 50 Nos. 13 & 14. PROKOFIEV Mazurka in B, Op.12 No. 4. ADÈS (3) Mazurkas, Op. 27

Inspired by folk dances he heard throughout his younger life and intense Polish nationalism, Chopin made the mazurka his own, perfecting the form to the point that it’s identified with him. As this ingenious program shows, however, many later composers took up the mazurka. Albéniz, Sibelius, Debussy—who knew? I’d love to say that as you delve into the byways of the mazurka, its mystery gets curiouser and curiouser, but with a handful exceptions that’s not so, at least not in this survey. Chopin’s mystique proved almost impossible to imitate; therefore, a number of these composers take a simple tack and reproduce the outlines of the original mazurka.

As a primer in “You, too, can write a mazurka,” compose a slow-moving dance in three-quarter time that typically puts the accent on the second beat, setting up a rhythm like saying “amazing, amazing, amazing.” Keep the beat in the left hand while the right hand states the melody, usually confining it to a narrow band of notes that goes up and then down (like the Largo in Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony”). For decoration insert some melancholy Slavic turns into the melody. Now you are ready to compete with the composers here who kept their mazurkas authentic to the source and dance-like: Saint-Saëns, Liadov, Arensky, and Glière, among others.

Others used the form to write light, entertaining salon pieces, adding a more sparkling melody and perhaps some flourishing fingerwork. Surprisingly, Liszt’s example doesn’t go much beyond prettiness. For Slavic flavor and more ingenuity, one must turn to Tchaikovsky’s two mazurkas, one of which is actually titled Mazurka de salon. Sibelius and Delius also follow this modest design.

But then it gets more interesting, whenever someone tries to be as personal, inward, and enigmatic as Chopin while accepting the challenge to make the mazurka as pianistic as he did. Three composers manage to rival Chopin at his own invention—Debussy, Scriabin, and a fellow Pole, Szymanowski. Their examples are fascinating, as you’d expect from keyboard innovators of such stature. Finally there’s Thomas Adès, the British former wunderkind who assimilates all that has gone before and winds up producing what might be called three deconstructed mazurkas, where the familiar elements of rhythm, mood, and pacing are reflected upon in very original ways. Having heard 23 mazurkas by various hands before arriving at Adès’s contribution, I was thoroughly impressed by his originality.

The young Kazakh pianist Dina Duisen approaches the program with a lovely touch and total sympathy for every kind of mazurka. Her ingenious notion is carried out with charm, nimbleness, and grace. Because so many of these pieces sound similar, she might have concentrated on Chopin and only five or six of the most inventive others he inspired. But I have no criticism of what she’s actually done, which is to enlarge the mazurka’s range far beyond its origins. Slimline cardboard packaging with a brief biographical note inside.

Huntley Dent

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