Chopin's Mazurkas allowed me a glimpse of paradise


When I was nine years old, I played my first piece by Chopin; the Mazurka in A flat, Op 24 No 3. I had been clamouring to do so for a while, whining and being generally obnoxious, demanding that I should be allowed to play something by the great man. I am, after all, half Polish with a Canadian mother, who, like a true convert, was more Polish than the Poles, spoke the language fluently and would play Chopin at the slightest inclination. Being my first teacher, she was only too happy to allow me to play Chopin when I was deemed worthy.

For anyone with a drop of Polish blood in them, loving Chopin's music is a prerequisite as well as being completely natural. To the Poles he is more than just a composer, he is a national hero and it could be said that his music, along with the Polish language and the Catholic Church, was one of the major factors in holding the country together during the centuries of occupation by foreign powers. What capital city other than Warsaw names its airport after a composer? Our ties with Chopin are mystical, sometimes unfathomable, and go far deeper than just a love for his music.

Which brings me back to the Mazurkas. Chopin wrote Mazurkas his entire life. The last work he penned was a Mazurka. One can follow the whole development of his career and life with these 55 masterpieces. He was a leader of the Romantic movement, but a strangely reluctant Romantic, and some of the essential hallmarks of the Romantic era he almost completely eschewed. However, with the Mazurkas, he covers just about every base: the authentic influence of the traditional folk dances from the Mazur region which had fascinated Chopin as a boy on holiday near Warsaw; the tremendous nationalistic feelings; the personal emotion that seeps through in spite of Chopin's horror of making his feelings known to the public; the revolutionary piano writing that only gets more and more complex as the years go by and which influenced every composer who wrote for the piano after him, and the harmonic progressions and chromaticisms that laid the path for the late Romantics and beyond.

I try to include at least one Mazurka wherever possible in my recital programmes. I’m looking forward to performing three of them (Op 50) at the Wigmore Hall in a BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert on December 1. But to work on the complete set of Mazurkas and to record them was a dream come true. I had waited a long time because these are some of his most difficult and complicated works full of polyphony, strange rhythms and deep meanings. And yet, to give a successful performance of the Mazurkas, paradoxically they must sound spontaneous, fluid, elegant, noble, profoundly moving and out of this world. No easy task and not for a beginner...which is why I waited so long!

I started recording my Chopin Recital discs with my friends at ATMA Classique. They were so much fun to record, I finally said to myself, if I am ever going to take on this project it has to be now, when I have this magnificent set-up: a recording in a hall I love (the Palais Montcalm) in a city that I love (Quebec City) on an amazing instrument with Canada's best piano technician on stand by, and with a recording team that I trust implicitly.

And thus began the year where I practised and performed Mazurkas morning, noon and night and was never happier. I have never felt closer to Chopin and I have never felt more joy in my professional life.

I was transported to another world, and was allowed a glimpse of paradise. To play these pieces is an honour and a privilege as well as a huge responsibility. I only hope that those who listen to this recording will sense some of what I was feeling and will enjoy these miracles of creativity.

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