CHOPIN Complete Mazurkas
First released on the Dorian label in 1999, Andrew Rangell’s complete Chopin Mazurkas cycle gains a new lease of catalogue life via Steinway & Sons. Listeners familiar with Rangell’s idiosyncratic interpretative style vis-à-vis Bach, Beethoven and, well, just about everyone else won’t be surprised by his highly personalised readings and pronounced metric leeway. Indeed, selections where the characteristic mazurka rhythm prevails in the foreground often sound ‘un-mazurka-like’.
Op 17 No 1 in B flat, for example, conveys appropriate exuberance but with gawky, self-conscious accentuation, while the usually flowing and soaring Op 7 No 1 in the same key emerges choppy and constipated, despite Rangell’s excellent cross-rhythmic phrasing. Rangell overloads the unpretentious C major, Op 68 No 1, with emphatic, superfluous stresses and fussy pointing. The gentle grandness and grace of Op 50 No 3 in C sharp minor also fall flat under the arrhythmia of Rangell’s compulsive underlining.
But sometimes Rangell’s liberties shed fresh and novel light on thrice familiar texts. For example, the opening note of the main theme of the G minor Mazurka, Op 24 No 1, seems exaggeratingly detached, like a hiccup. Yet in the score, the actual note is followed by a rest and is marked rubato. Here I think Rangell is attempting to honour Chopin’s intentions, albeit by overstating the case. Rangell also captures the earthy flavour of the droning left hand of the C major, Op 56 No 2, with variegated voicings and expressive dips that don’t detract from the bigger picture. Although Op 24 No 4 in B flat minor is most persuasive when it kicks and soars, the music’s contrapuntal and textural elaboration can withstand Rangell’s epic, outsize and overly probed conception.
In general, the lyrical, introspective and harmonically complex Mazurkas absorb Rangell’s phraseology best, such as the two A minor works, Op 7 No 2 and Op 17 No 4, the C minor, Op 56 No 3, and the composer’s valedictory F minor, Op 68 No 4. In short, if interventionist Mazurka players such as Jean-Marc Luisada (DG or Sony Classical) and Russell Sherman (Avie, A/12) hold appeal, so will Andrew Rangell. Personally, I’ll stick with the more direct and idiomatic Barbosa (Centaur), Ohlsson (Hyperion) and Harasiewicz (NIFC) editions, not to mention all three classic Rubinstein cycles.