American Record Guide
CHOPIN: Mazurkas plus
Surely Marjan Kiepura, son of a Polish tenor and a Hungarian soprano, is the very antithesis of the high-profile competition winner. This is his debut recording, and he is well past post-adolescence. Patria recordings, to judge by its URL, has to date released one recording-this one. There is little strutting of technical stuff here; the closest Kiepura gets is the A-major Polonaise-no etudes, scherzos, sonatas, ballades. In addition to the 14 mazurkas and the polonaise, there are three waltzes, a nocturne (did it really have to be Op. 9:2?), and a prelude. The title of the release is Images of a Homeland, and the pianist explains in his essay that he is interested in presenting Chopin as influenced by Poland, its culture and its very earth. The essay is accompanied by what look to be a couple of offbeat Polish Socialist-Realist paintings by Zofia Stryienska from the Kiepura family collection (offbeat to me; was it usual in that artistic school to have the blouse of a hard-working harvester-harvesting with a sickle, no less-unbuttoned to the waist, falling open..?) What, then, is this all about?
This is about a rhythmic understanding of Chopin completely unavailable to the usual competition-winner who has managed to please judges from every corner of the earth. There are wonderful inflections in almost every piece here, but the mazurkas-each given a wonderful individual character-stand out; Kiepura speaks Chopin's Polish rhythmic language fluently, as a mother tongue. To explain: much is made, in the Chopin literature, of the argument between Meyerbeer and Chopin about whether the latter was playing one of his mazurkas (all in 3/4) in the proper meter, or in an apparent 2/4, and a similar anecdote (minus the argument) was recounted by Charles Hallé. What is at stake is the lengthening of various beats in the triple meter to make the bar seem like duple meter. Should anyone doubt that it was done, let him listen to Ignaz Friedman's recording of the Mazurka, Op. 50:2; the middle section is a perfect illustration of this kind of rhythmic realization, which probably reflects the dancer's take on certain kinds of mazurkas. Friedman was not alone; wonderfully idiomatic realizations of the mazurka rhythm can also be heard on recordings by Andrzej Wasowski and Eduardus Halim.
It is not that Kiepura lapses into 2/4; it is that in realizing the mazurka rhythm, occasional bars approach 2/4 because of the way he draws out certain beats (in Opp. 24:2 and 50:2 for example-but there are plenty of other instances). Moreover, Kiepura realizes the more folkloric passages-such as the dissonant, drone-based evocation of the Polish bagpipe in Op. 7:1-with a kind of studied crudeness that contrasts wonderfully with passages more attuned to a fluid salon style or rich cantabile. Kiepura's Chopin is introspective, wonderfully idiomatic, and it makes a wonderful antidote to the bland, colorless, inoffensive Received Standard Chopin of the major classical labels.