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Chopin: The Mazurkas / Mirian Conti

Release Date: 11/09/2010
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30003
Composer:  Frédéric Chopin Performer:  Mirian Conti Number of Discs: 2
Length: 2 Hours 24 Mins.

CHOPIN Mazurkas Mirian Conti (pn) STEINWAY & SONS 30003 (2 CDs: 143:38)

I heard Mirian Conti in recital a few years back at a church in Ringwood, New Jersey, where she was presented by a wonderful local volunteer organization called the Ringwood Friends of Music. Her playing on that occasion was polished, sensitive, and articulate, all qualities that she brings to this new recording of Chopin’s mazurkas. Conti has made a specialty of the Spanish and Latin American repertoires; their dance rhythms seem an Read more especially apt preparation for the intricate mazurkas. One remembers that Alicia de Larrocha, who championed Spanish music, made a lovely recording of Chopin’s preludes. The mazurkas form as elemental a part of Chopin’s oeuvre as The Well Tempered Clavier does for Bach’s. Not coincidentally, Chopin began each day by playing Bach. Once I told a Russian pianist that I was considering buying a complete recording of the mazurkas, and he responded, ironically, by saying that I was “very dedicated.” Indeed, in the wrong hands a mazurka compilation can work like Chinese water torture. Conti, however, brings all these pieces to life with a spirit of fantasy and imagination that is totally endearing.

Conti’s mazurkas are flexible and rhythmically deft, although she never loses sight of their overall shape. Her Chopin playing demonstrates a structural solidity that reminds me of the Chopin performances of Vlado Perlemuter. I would like to point out some of the highlights of Conti’s collection. The first mazurka, op. 6/1, ushers us into a world of subtlety and refinement. The grand passions of Chopin’s waltzes are evoked by op. 7/1. Op. 7/2 is wistful and full of regret. A glimpse of tragedy comes with op. 17/4. Op. 24/2 is playful yet with a hint of menace. The folk dance is elevated to the aristocratic salon in op. 30/3. Conti’s brisk tempo for op. 33/2 creates the feeling of a carnival. Op. 33/4 presents a story told through rhythm.

A dimly lit, oriental ambience is evoked by op. 50/3. Op. 56/2 features a drone like a bagpipe. The longest mazurka is op. 56/3, which nearly has the scope of one of the ballades. Op. 59/1 seems to ask a question, almost philosophically. There is a foretaste of Scott Joplin in op. 59/2. In fact, Conti writes that Chopin demands “the freedom of a jazz player on his right hand.” Op. 67/3 has an almost alcoholic sense of intoxication. There is a haunted, Charles Addams feel to op. 68/2. The last mazurka to be composed, op. 68/4, evinces the sense of resignation and acceptance; Conti plays it with an uncommon degree of meaning in every note.

The engineering is very good. It is rather close, revealing every nuance of Conti’s playing. I wouldn’t have minded the feeling of a little more air around the instrument. Conti has contributed a splendidly erudite program note to the album, from which I’ve quoted. I listened to this set four times, and each time my appreciation of the skill and warmth of the artist increased. Conti’s mazurkas rest beside splendid complete sets in my collection by Vladimir Ashkenazy, Alexander Brailowsky, and Alexander Uninsky. Conti does not surpass their achievements, but her recording is more than complementary to them. We really need to hear more Chopin from Mirian Conti. I think her take on the concertos would be fascinating. For the moment, the mazurkas that we have constitute a feast.

FANFARE: Dave Saemann

Best known for her advocacy of Latin-American composers, Mirian Conti's first project for the newly launched Steinway & Sons label is given over to Chopin's complete Mazurkas. Fusing instinct and intellect, Conti clearly has thought these amazingly inventive and diverse pieces through insofar as tempos, tone color, voicings, and ornamentation are concerned. I'll cite one cogent example: Conti begins the C-sharp minor Op. 33 No. 1's unaccompanied modal melody in an unusually soft and offhanded manner. Once the left hand enters, the pianist increases intensity not so much in volume as by way of subtle legato phrasing, where notes seem to overlap by a split second, as if attempting to make the piano notes slide into each other in the manner of a singer. There's plenty of zest and abandon in the giddy D-flat major second theme, yet it is tempered by Conti's discrete pedaling and careful observance of Chopin's often ignored rests. However, she catches you off guard with a few strategically placed bass-note sforzandos. Thousands of similarly fetching details abound throughout this release.

Notice Conti's hushed approach to Op. 7 No. 1's strange third theme, and how she peppers her conversational shaping of Op. 24 No. 2's main theme with a slight yet stinging accent. Op. 59 No. 3's lusty momentum and pronounced dynamic contrasts recall Martha Argerich's similarly epic reading, while Op. 63 No. 3's canonic voices manage to sound distinct from each other without any underlining on the pianist's part. Conti's aforementioned legato technique particularly stands out in two A minor Mazurkas--the Op. 17 No. 4 and the "Notre Temps" without opus number.

Conti provides program notes that delightfully interweave personal anecdotes and well-researched musical discussion. The engineering accurately reflects the generous, full-bodied sonority that Conti produces in concert.

– Jed Distler,


"Conti's performances are imaginative. She plays with rhythmic vigor, crimping whenever possible to give propulsion to the music. Her phrasing is beautiful, with rubato, but always landing at the cadences in time to make the maximum effect." -- Turok's Choice
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