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Chopin: Complete Mazurkas / Andrew Rangell

Release Date: 11/11/2016
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30071
Composer:  Frédéric Chopin Performer:  Andrew Rangell

In Chopin's varied output, the mazurka is the most abundantly represented genre, in which Chopin permitted himself an astonishing range of expression. He took this national dance, developed it, enlarged it and hung upon it his choicest melodies, his most piquant harmonies. His Mazurkas are epigrammatie, fluctuating, bizarre, tender, precise and vertiginous and while other composers have written in this dance form, none has made the same mark as Chopin. In this release, Andrew Rangell brilliantly explores the repertoire that lived so close to Chopin's heart.

Album Credits:
Executive Producer: Jon Feidner
Producer: Andrew Rangell
Engineer: Thomas Stephenson
Remaster: Brad Michel
Read more Editor: Matthew Packwood
Piano Technician: Anthony McKenna
Production Assistant: Robert Hillinck
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Cover Painting: Yehan Wang, City Surface:g1010, 2012

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.

-- Jed Distler, Gramophone

This set of the Chopin Mazurkas on the Steinway & Sons label is a reissue that was recorded in April, 2000; July, 2001; and October, 2002. It was initially released in June, 2003 on the Dorian label. The artist here is American pianist Andrew Rangell (b. 1948), who has earned a reputation for his fine interpretations of music by J.S. Bach and Beethoven. One thing you can say about his Chopin is that it will likely make you sit up and take notice, maybe even make you hear the composer in a different way. Why?

Rangell's accounts of these marvelous Chopin works are rather individual and full of subtle touches, but his approach will likely, if it hasn't already from its first appearance on disc, generate some controversy. He is less Romantic in his interpretations than many pianists, sometimes a bit grudging in his use of the pedal, and often he employs generous amounts of rubato, perhaps to the point where some listeners may find the tempo a bit fractured and lacking in flow – try his account of the B-flat Major, Op. 7, #1, a performance I nevertheless found effective. Yet, his manner in these works is not based on momentary whim or on a natural eccentricity, but rather on the emotional and intellectual character of the piece, as his tempo adjustments, dynamics and phrasing in general seem to fit well the mood and spirit of each mazurka. Indeed, and rarely does he come across as wayward or unconvincing. Arguably, he is very subtle and thoughtful in his accounts of just about every mazurka on the two discs, even if he goes out on a few limbs.

Try his emotionally charged performance of the A minor Mazurka, Op. 17, #4. Notice how he deftly establishes a sort of hobbled gait to accompany the main theme as it struggles seemingly through tears to express its sadness, but then he adds contrast at the end of the theme's exposition with a sort of nervous tic whose accented character suggests an emotional lift, one which of course never materializes. The middle section initially seems an oasis of hope from the darkness, but Rangell deftly points up the hectic character in those hammered notes in the right hand to expose the music's deceptive character. He finds just the right mixture of elegance and frustration in the great B-flat minor Mazurka, Op. 24, #4, and he nicely captures the exuberance of the D-flat Major Mazurka, Op. 30, #3.

Rangell's deft account of the C-sharp minor Mazurka, Op. 50, #3, is elegant and tortured by turns, its flow hesitant and its bursts of ebullience unsettled, if not schizophrenic. The B Major Mazurka, Op. 56, #1, divulges the same hesitant quality but is appropriately brighter and happier. The the C-sharp minor, Op. 63, #3 has an especially effective anguished sense because of Rangell's subtle use of rubato, a feature he also employs nicely in the ensuing piece on the second disc, the "Notre temps" Mazurka.

As suggested above, nearly all of the mazurkas here are effective in their own, individual way and the whole set is certainly worth exploring. Rangell offers insightful album notes, explaining much about the mazurkas in considerable detail. The sound reproduction is clear and well balanced, and the instrument itself is quite fine sounding, not a surprise considering the label name. I reviewed Janina Fialkowska's complete set of Mazurkas here in 2014 (Atma Classique ACD22682) and found it excellent. Still, I can give this quite different Mazurka collection by Rangell a strong recommendation.

-- Robert Cummings,

Those familiar with the early-2000s recording of Chopin's complete mazurkas by Andrew Rangell may be surprised to see another one, but should know that this Steinway release is a reissue of that same recording. Steinway has released mostly original material, but they've already done well with one Chopin recital by Rangell, and his intelligent, often unorthodox, rather intimate style fits the Steinway concept. It's good to have this back in the catalog, for this is a mazurka set that's definitely outside the box with lots to contribute. Rangell freely admits (his notes are an attraction of the package) that his specialties have been Bach and Beethoven, and to an extent, what you have here is Chopin played by an expert in Bach, who, of course, influenced Chopin profoundly. The pedal is sparse, and the gauzy romantic mood that so often surrounds Chopin is absent. Rangell's clean approach puts the focus on the daring harmonic turns in these mazurkas, but even more so on the ornamentation, which is carefully traced out. This disturbs the dance rhythms of the pieces, something else to which Rangell not only admits, but proudly takes credit for: he sees the blurring of phrase boundaries as central to Chopin's accomplishment. You may or may not like his approach, but it's consistently thought out and very elegantly executed. Sample one of the well-known pieces, like the Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4, to gauge your reaction: a wistfulness associated with this piece is missing, but the way Rangell puts its basic structure across by keeping tight control over quiet dynamics is impressive. Other pluses include the presence of some rare early mazurkas and of two versions of the late Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4, whose authentic text remains a matter of dispute. The sound quality is excellent; the music was not recorded in the American sonic miracle often employed by original issue label Dorian, the Troy Savings Bank, but at the nearly as good Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Recommended, especially for those who've encountered Rangell before and know what they're getting into.

-- AllMusic
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