Kevin Kenner: Late Chopin Works
When it comes to Schubert and Chopin, who died in their thirties, the concept of ‘late works’ is somewhat curious. Interpreters and audiences may be predisposed to hear signs of resignation and/or creative liberation (cf Adorno on Beethoven: ‘touched by death, the hand of the master sets free the masses of material that he used to form’). But Chopin’s late works are more like a second wind than a last breath, as Kevin Kenner (a Moscow and Warsaw finalist in 1990) intelligently conveys.
Regrettably absent is the Polonaise-fantasie, which would be the perfect illustration of Adorno’s point. But this is compensated for by Kenner’s thought-provoking ‘reconstruction’ of what is often wrongly referred to as Chopin’s last work, the Op 68 No 4 Mazurka (it was in all probability discarded from an earlier opus). This problematic piece, whose manuscript was rediscovered in 1951, has been performed in a variety of ways, lasting from under two minutes to, as here, over four. Kenner follows up the F major middle section (often omitted because of its conjectural status) with a tastefully realised descant for the return of the opening, in line with Chopin’s renewed interest in counterpoint.
Here, as in the other Mazurkas and especially the B minor Sonata, Kenner’s sense of the long line and overall architecture is as impressive as his idiomatic phrasing. Admittedly the Barcarolle, placed first on the disc, lacks the delicious lilt of Hough’s rendition (Hyperion, 5/10) but it too is persuasive in its symphonic flow. Edoardo Torbianelli is available for anyone who cares to hear some of this music on an 1842 Pleyel (Glossa, 3/18). But for a modern account, Kenner stands as tall as any of his rivals.