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Grünfeld, Pachmann, Friedman, Rosenthal, and Nyíregyházi play Chopin

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Published on Jun 25, 2011

The B major section of Chopin's Mazurka in B minor op.33 no.4 is a particular favorite of mine, as is the purported "authentic" method of performing Chopin's music...

"Berlioz affirms most emphatically that Chopin could not play in time, and Sir Charles Hallé pretends to have proved to Chopin, by counting, that he played some Mazurkas 4/4 instead of 3/4 time. In replying to Charles Hallé, Chopin is said to have observed, humorously, that this was quite in the national character ( ... ) It is Tempo Rubato which makes the Hungarian dances so fantastic, fascinating, capricious; which so often makes the Viennese waltz sound like 2/4 instead of 3/4 time; which gives to the mazurka that peculiar accent on the third beat, resulting sometimes in 3/4 + 1/16* "
From: "Tempo Rubato" by Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1909)
* 1/16 = pause, "Luftpause" ahead of the third beat: at 2:39 etc.


(0:01) Alfred Grünfeld (1852-1924), recorded in 1905 (?)
Grünfeld was born within three years of Chopin's death and is, therefore, an important link in the search for an "authentic" Chopin mazurka tradition.
The evocative micro-accelerando... and the variance of how he plays with the perceived downbeat ahead, on, and behind it is masterful.
Grünfeld omits repeats, obviously to fit the mazurka on a 78 disc, but the cuts (especially of the repeat of this B major section) rather spoil Chopin's large-scale tableau effect.

(0:42) Vladimir de Pachmann (1848-1933), recorded in 1916
At 1:37 he also plays beats that are not written... a free, expressive, creative style of playing. Missing some micro-accelerando found in Grünfeld, and obviously both of them cannot compare to Friedman and Rosenthal...
However, Pachmann's approach to Chopin in particular was informed by a great deal of thought and study: similarities exist between his playing and that of Rosenthal, both of whom represent different branches of an "authentic" Chopin tradition (where Rosenthal studied with Chopin's pupil Mikuli*, Pachmann studied with Chopin's last teaching-assistant Vera Kologrivoff Rubio). It is noteworthy that Rosenthal approached Pachmann for some guidance on Chopin performance.
* Mikuli himself supervised this Chopin edition

(1:53) Ignace Friedman (1882-1948), recorded in 1926
If I had not heard Friedman's wildly dance-like, fantastic rendition here, I would have declared Rosenthal's to be the best performance of this mazurka I had ever heard.
Still, Friedman's mazurka is more flowing. It always has a driving impulse with exquisite dance rhythm. Nowadays, pianists almost never play mazurkas with such adventurous rhythms. Horowitz's very flowing. He also has a strong sense of the dance rhythm. But no one comes close to Friedman in terms of "always dancing" yet free.
Real dances here. I've never heard this mazurka played with this level of Polish folk dance 'feel'. I don't worry about any little discrepancies re the score because overall this playing is so exceptional in it's ability to transport the listener back to early nineteenth century Poland.
Chopin said that some played the mazurkas well but Poles played them best, (understanding the rhythm of the dance).

(2:54) Moriz Rosenthal (1862-1946), recorded in 1935
Moriz Rosenthal was taught both by Mikuli, the famous pupil of Chopin who helped pass on certain approaches to the purported "authentic" method of performing Chopin's music, and also by Liszt. Rosenthal was amongst Liszt's most brilliant students... known as a 'banger' most of his career...
His recordings all come in his very later years, when his early fire and power had mellowed into a spirit of deep poetry. His playing is probably the most "colorful" of the Liszt students who recorded, with wonderful precision and perfectly nuanced shaping. His use of rubato is also sometimes very "19th century" but always absolutely compelling and never merely mannered.
Rosenthal's mazurka playing should be placed alongside Friedman's and Horowitz's, based on this ethereal interpretation.

(4:06) Ervin Nyíregyházi (1903-1987), recorded in 1972
Certainly not a natural Chopinist... oh well...we discussed that before...
played like a Lisztian rhapsody*... His tempi are slow even by today's standards, and his playing is rhythmically free even when compared to 19th century pianists such as Pachmann and Paderewski. With Nyíregyházi's approach, the printed text is merely a point of departure...
In the mazurka he also plays rather thick chords on the first beat that are not written. Every Nyíregyházi performance features these thickened chords - a Nyíregyházi "trademark". The results are more Nyíregyházi than Chopin, as Chopin was not in the habit of close-spacing bass chords.

* Chopin's tempo is "Mesto"... and Chopin's pupil Lenz said Chopin taught this as a ballade (!) and the composer described the end as a bell toll followed by chords sweeping away a cohort of ghosts...

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