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Briefly Noted: Anderszewski's Central European Survey (CD of the Month)

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Janáček, On an Overgrown Path (Book 2) / Szymanowski, Mazurkas (selected) / Bartók, Bagatelles (complete), Piotr Anderszewski

(released on January 26, 2024)
Warner Classics 5419789127 | 65'32"
Schedule conflicts prevented me from hearing Piotr Anderszewski's most recent area recitals at Shriver Hall, in 2023 and 2019, much to my regret. The Polish pianist's program last year included some of Karol Szymanowski's Mazurkas, which are at the heart of this new recital disc, combining sets of early 20th-century miniatures by three esteemed composers from central Europe. Anderszewski once summed up his approach to playing the piano by saying, "to be a musician is to make sense through sound." In performance, he continued, he allows himself "a certain incoherence," to be "in a world of feelings where strict logic is not the most important thing."

The sense of vivid storytelling in an uncomprehended language suits this compilation of pieces enlivened by dissonance and folk-inspired rhythm and harmony. The disc opens with the second book of Janáček's On an Overgrown Path, recorded in 2016 at Warsaw Radio. Anderszewski included the three pieces the composer never officially included in the in the second book, from 1911. Janáček eschewed the character titles he gave each movement in Book 1, providing only tempo markings. This choice gives some emotional distance from the subject matter Janáček ascribed to these pieces, a combination of memories of his childhood and the painful experiences surrounding the death of his 20-year-old daughter Olga in 1903.

The other two selections on this disc were captured last year in Berlin. Anderszewski has long championed the music of fellow Pole Karol Szymanowski, and he gives glowing accounts of six of the twenty Mazurkas published in the composer's Op. 50. Szymanowski went even farther than Chopin in his incorporation of folk elements in his Mazurkas, and Anderszewski brings out the blue-note touches, quintal drones, and imitation of folk instruments.

The complete set of Bartók’s Bagatelles, Op. 6, packs intense flavors into each of these fourteen pieces, most no longer than a minute or two. The experimental nature of this early score, completed in 1908, is announced in the very first piece, where Bartók notated the left hand in four sharps and the right in four flats. The mixture of modal colors, drawn from central European folk music, and atonal techniques revealing the influence of Debussy and Schoenberg, is bracing in Anderszewski's rendition. The final pair of Bagatelles reveal the influence of Stefi Geyer, the young violinist Bartók developed an unrequited love for around this time: a funeral elegy ("Elle est morte") and a madcap waltz ("Ma mie qui danse"), both containing a melodic motif associated with her.

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