The concept album that a buyer might expect from the title The Mazurka Diary isn't explicitly delivered here; the title refers to Gourari's general sentiment, expressed in her portion of the booklet notes in German and English, that "for me, Chopin's mazurkas are more than dances or stylized dance music, and represent something like a musical diary which contains childhood memories as well as worldly wisdom, longings, dreams of love, despair, resignation, and presentiments of death. Indeed, dying itself." Annotator Bernhard Neuhoff adds a history of Chopin's mazurkas, chiming in with the idea that they form an "intimate diary." Their special status in this regard apparently comes from the fact that they're distinctively Polish, but not in a way that the polonaise was, and Chopin himself said he had to "coax mazurkas out of my conflict-ridden heart." It's all a bit vague, but the young Russian pianist Anna Gourari pulls it off. Large groups of mazurkas do work well together on a recording; the mazurka rhythm is always there, but it's never treated the same way twice. And this recording announces a very strong new Chopin interpreter. Despite her disclaimers about the dance component, she keeps the beat going steadily, with rubato applied for specific effect rather than in a global, free-floating way. Tempos are on the quick side. And this is Gourari's strength: she produces poetic readings even within this framework. The effect of even a familiar piece like the actually modal Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17/4, is not so much dreamy as evocative of a rich inner life in constant motion. It's a fresh way of looking at Chopin's mazurkas, and it makes one want to hear what Gourari does with the other genres of Chopin's piano music. Clear and moderately scaled sound from the Salzburg Mozarteum contributes to the overall effect.
Chopin: The Mazurka Diary Review
by James Manheim