Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750):
Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV971
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor, BWV903
Toccata in C Minor, BWV911
Sonata in D Major, BWV963
Frederic Chopin / Franz Liszt
Six Chants Polonais (S480/R145) from 'Seventeen Polish Songs', Op. 74 by Chopin
Franz Liszt (1811-1886):
Piano: Ruth Slenczynska
Producer: Michael Rolland Davis
Engineer: Ed Thompson
Mastered using 20-Bit State-of-the-Art Technology - HDCD Encoded
Phenomenal clarity and elegant playing from child prodigy, legendary pianist and virtuosa - Ruth Slenczynska, in the first of a series of historic recordings from the 1950s and 60s. Piano playing in the grand tradition.
Ivory Classics are certainly committed to bringing the work of Ruth Slenczynska before the public. I gave a summary of her remarkable curriculum in my review of her recently-recorded Schumann disc (64405-71004) and refer readers to that. There is also a selection of live recordings - "Ruth Slenczynska in Concert" (64405 70902) - plus the present reissue of the small group of recordings she made on the occasion of her return to concert giving at the beginning of the 1950s.
The record company pitches its claims very high, and the title "The Legacy of a Genius" invites us to consider what, in the context of an art which is normally seen as interpretative rather than creative, being a genius actually means. Well, if you listen through the wretched sound and the swimming bath acoustic of the mythical Guido Agosti's recording of the Bach Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue (AURA 205-2), your reaction to his arresting opening statement, to the way he pitches into the first section as if his life depended on it, to his organ-like blurring of outlines to produce unexpected chordal progressions, to his voice-leading in the fugue and to the sheer sense of divine madness about the performance, might cause you to think, "That's genius if anything is!" Slenczynska's beautifully played, highly musical rendering is hardly on such an exalted level, yet we should not despise the merely admirable, for this is clear-headed Bach-playing well worth hearing. My only specific doubt was that, while faster movements are always well-shaped, certain slower sections, such as the "Largo" of the Toccata, plod a little. I found her habit of splitting the hands - a habit she had not lost when she recorded Schumann nearly half a century later - rather a trial at these points.
The Chopin/Liszt is delightfully fresh and lively, but I find it odd that an artist with (I presume) Polish blood in her makes such an un-Chopin-like sound; maybe the culprit is Liszt, but these are performances for the drawing-room rather than outpourings of the Polish spirit. The Liszt Consolation is nicely turned and the Rhapsody shows considerable virtuosity and panache. It would deserve cheers in the concert hall, but on disc we have to remember all those Liszt interpreters - Horowitz in primis - who really do deserve the name of "genius".
The recordings are very good for their time, only displaying a degree of distortion in the stronger passages. The record comes with a full account of the pianist's career and detailed notes on the music. As you will gather, I am not convinced that gold has been mined here, but piano-fanciers will wish to catch up on a fascinating figure.
Music Web.com, Mar. 2003
These high-resolution remasterings only bring into focus what we've known all along; that compellingly "right" performances that were recorded right to begin with, will never grow old. Slenczynska's Bach, Chopin and Liszt are as fresh today as they were then. Slenczynska's Bach is superb. The Chopin/Liszt selections reveal Slenczynska's further mastery. When was the last time we encountered a pianist whose Chopin and Liszt were equally persuasive?.
Classical Disc Digest, Jan. 2000
Born in 1925, Ruth Slenczynska gave her first recital in 1929 and made her New York debut at eight in 1933. She studied with the best, Hofmann, Vengerova, Cortot, Petri, Schnabel and Rachmaninov. She plays Bach with great authority and intellectual clarity and with unashamedly romantic interpretative values. Her sound is very clearly delineated and focused. The Chopin/Liszt Chants Polonais show Slenczynska as a pianist in the great romantic tradition. Altogether this is a very interesting disc.
ICRC, Dec. 1999
Slenczynska's Bach is both spirited and probing, featuring a rich and varied tone and imposing technique. It's amazing how she deftly handles the competing lines in the Italian Concerto's Presto and the Fuga of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. There is much to enjoy on this disc, dating from the early 1950's, no piano aficionado will be disappointed by this splendid issue.
www.cosmik.com/classics, Jan. 1999
This enterprising disc showcases pianist Ruth Slenczynska, who was a world-famous child prodigy in the 30's. She essays several Bach works and a batch of Liszt miniatures here, including the latter's transcriptions of Chopin's Polish song arrangements. Her Bach is highly articulate, while her Chopin/Liszt is an unalloyed delight. The remastering of the mono source delivers a firm, clear sound. The liner notes are outstanding.
Billboard Magazine, Jan. 1999
This release reminds us of Ruth Slenczynska's rare combination of intellectual insight and emotional spontaneity. Her Bach playing (this recording dates from 1952) is far more dynamic than was the norm in the pre-Gould world.
Fanfare Magazine, Dec. 1998
This disc is both timbrally assertive and interpretively strong minded. Slenczynska's Chopin/Liszt is acerbic in accent, yet brightly colored and molded with a rhapsodic freedom that's spellbinding. Her high-energy Bach, with its daring fusion on textural lucidity, well-honed articulation and unapologetic rhythmic license breaks away from the stultifying piety that marks so much Bach performances. The sound is excellent - almost startlingly so, given the origins of the material.
Fanfare Magazine, Oct. 1998
This recording shows her to be a remarkable pianist indeed. She has a strong technique - the crispness of her articulation in the Bach pieces is especially notable. The sound is excellent, and Slenczynska's musicianship makes the disc a pleasure to hear.
American Record Guide, Oct. 1998
In what might be called the original 'Shine' story, teenage American piano prodigy Ruth Slenczynska withdrew from concert life in the late 1930s because of an overbearing father. She returned to the platform as an adult in 1951 and recorded some splendid Bach, Chopin and Liszt. 'The Legacy of a Genius' restores that classic monaural recording of Bach's 'Italian Concerto' and other works. Here is Bach without frills - the soulful, somber heart of the master conveyed by the simplest means. Ms. Slenczynska 73, still teaches at Southern Illinois University.
The Denver Post, Aug. 1998