The 2-CD set celebrates both the 100th anniversary of his birth, as well as the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth. With this release, Victoria Mushkatkol boldly challenges the commonplace interpretation of Frédéric Chopin's music: "There is an unfortunate tendency today to oversimplify Chopin's music and to accentuate the virtuosic at the expense of "zal" (a Polish word for an immense range of feelings that Chopin used to express a unique feeling that pervades all of his music," writes Mushkatkol. "With these recordings, I hope to counter these misguided notions and to reveal the intricate polyphony of voices, the melodicism, and uncompromising spirit embedded in Chopin's music and to demonstrate the sheer abundance of ideas and emotions in these works.' Since making her debut at age ten as soloist with the Kiev Philharmonic, Victoria Mushkatkol has been welcomed on stages world-wide as soloist, recitalist and chamber musician. Widely respected as a pedagogue, Mushkatkol has taught at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Oberlin Conservatory, and had her students receive prizes at such renowned competitions as the Cleveland International Competition and Concert Artist Guild International Competition. Subterranean Connections: Bach and Chopin On the face of it, the works of Bach and Chopin recorded here are radically different in conception and sound. They were written, straddling the Classical era, roughly two hundred years apart and were even originally intended for different instruments. In addition, the cultural, social, economic, and aesthetic contexts of the Baroque and Romantic periods diverge to such a significant extent that we can say that Bach and Chopin created within virtually different worlds. Baroque music, with it's complex tonal counterpoint expressing fundamental order and balance, and Romantic music, with it's expansion of tonality and emphasis on personal expression and the realm of the emotions, set very different technical and expressive challenges for the modern pianist. Bach's body of work expansively encompasses music for a wide range of forces and contexts with the church as his prime patron, whereas Chopin, who was supported by a secular and aristocratic patronage system, composed music almost exclusively for the piano and the salon. And yet, irrespective of these underlying differences, subterranean connections intricately link these two composers and their solo keyboard works. Both Bach and Chopin were absolutely creative and innovative forces who have handed down some of the pinnacles of Western art music and have re-shaped the history of keyboard music. They each created and refined their own unmistakable sound worlds through the imaginative re-invention of established forms and genres, particularly dance forms as heard here in Bach's French Overture and Chopin's Mazurkas. Both were composer-performers for whom music-making and composition were inextricably connected to the point of being inseparable. In other words, they composed works as vehicles for their activities as performers, and their daily music-making led directly to their compositional activities. Their exploration of compositional possibilities was intimately connected to the physical immediacy of the instrument. Johann Sebastian Bach's French Overture in B minor, BWV 831 was composed in 1733-1734 and published in 1735 as the second part, along with the contrasting Italian Concerto, of his Keyboard Practice (Clavier Übung) series. At the center of his weekly activities throughout the 1730s, the Collegium Musicum offered Bach the opportunity, not only to foster his cultivation of religious music for the church, but to compose and perform works for the harpsichord and organ. The publishing venture of the four part Clavier Übung series-published in installments between 1731 and 1741-was certainly an opportunity to bring in extra income, however Bach's intentions were not simply financial. Bach envisioned the project as a systematic survey of keyboard music and practice, and he desired to create a comprehensive vehicle through which his activities as a keyboard artist could be admired by a larger public. The Overture in the French Style represented something of a novelty for Bach at the time, seeing that he had not undertaken an imaginative exploration and display of French manners of style and genre in his previous works. Along with the Italian Concerto of Part II of the Clavier Übung, Bach adapted orchestral styles to the keyboard in the French Overture, which is closer in conception to his orchestral suites rather than to the keyboard suites. Evoking a melodic style indicative of a group of players rather than a solo instrument, the extended overture, the eight dances, and the 'echo' conclusion of the French Overture presents a more stately and refined adaptation of the 'galant' stylizations that were becoming popular at the time. Subtle as it may be, Bach's influence on the Polish Chopin's distinctive pianistic style cannot be overstated. From an early age, Chopin absorbed Bach's innovations, for his teacher in Warsaw-Zywny-was a Bach fanatic at a time when Bach was little appreciated. Chopin brought Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier with him on his trip to Majorca with George Sand in the winter of 1838-9, which served as a model for his Opus 29 Preludes published later that year. His unique sound and distinctive piano style circuitously draw back to a re-imagining of Bach's ornamental melody, figuration, and counterpoint. It can be argued that Chopin's achievement was entirely new and, at the same time, represented the recovery of something that had been lost by the early nineteenth century. Chopin's compositions took shape at the piano through his daily improvisations, and his sound and style resulted from his explorations of the possibilities and limitations of the instrument. Like other composer-performers, Chopin thought in terms of sounds rather than in terms of concepts. Thus, Chopin's genius was not one that created new compositional forms, but, rather, he filled early nineteenth century models with his expressive aesthetic transforming established forms into his own distinctive idioms. The recordings presented here offer excellent examples of Chopin's ability to transform the established into something entirely personal and new. With the Mazurka-he composed fifty-eight of them-Chopin elevated the Polish national dance into the highest musical art and brought what was essentially a peasant dance onto the public stage. Yet, the Mazurkas, irrespective of their deep folk intonations, are not music for dancing. Each Mazurka is a poetic miniature, in which dance and song are united in intangible rhythms. Traditionally, a 'scherzo'-'joke' in Italian-was a light-hearted and lively dance-like movement within a larger work. Chopin's four Scherzi, however, stand as some of the most substantial contributions to the piano literature. Like the Mazurkas, the Scherzi, although on a more epic scale, express Chopin's patriotic sentiments and reveal the process by which the composer's powerful emotional world of extremes is brought into balance through the vivid contrasts between the outer and middle sections. Chopin's Scherzi are no longer little 'jokes' or rapid, lively dances; they are forays into the Romantic world of the emotions. In a letter written from Vienna capturing his creative and emotional state during the time of working on the Scherzi, Chopin recounts his experience of Christmas night 1830: I went alone at midnight, walking slowly, to St Stephen's cathedral. When I reached it, there was no one still about. Not out of devoutness, but in order to contemplate that huge nave at such a time of night, I stood still at the foot of a Gothic pillar in the darkest spot... The silence was intense... Behind me, a tomb; underfoot, a tomb. The only thing lacking was one above me...I felt my solitude more acutely than ever. I quenched my thirst rapturously at the spring of feelings that welled up for me from that imposing sight. At the center of the first Scherzo in B-minor, Chopin positions the nostalgic reverie of the Polish lullaby Lulajze Juzunin (Sleep, little Jesus) between the hellish furies of the outer sections. Schumann called the second Scherzo in B-flat minor, published in 1837, "Byronic" with the imploring opening triplet running throughout as if in search of an answer to it's own question. According to his pupil Wilhelm von Lenz, Chopin often complained that this Scherzo was never played "questioningly enough, never rough enough, never soft enough, never with enough gravitas." The C-sharp minor Scherzo (no. 3) places into opposition the demonic powers and the prophetic pronouncement and suffering of the fallen angel of the outer sections with the choral-like quality of angelic laughter and divine light of the center section. Published in 1843, the fourth and last Scherzo creates an atmosphere reminiscent of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer's Night's Dream. Chopin envelops the dark, seemingly endless vocal line and deeply confessional middle section with the whimsically fantastic and joyful outer sections. Chopin's Barcarolle, Opus 60 (the only Barcarolle that he composed) moves beyond the simple Venetian gondolier's song to a large-scale work achieving a lushly Romantic harmonic structure and emotional temperament while maintaining the lilting of a canal boat and evoking the night air. Of the representative range of works presented here, only the Ballades did not have a direct precedent and were the first known pieces of that title. Until Chopin's set, the connotations of the ballad referred exclusively to the vocal and poetic. Using this title, Chopin invoked a wide range of musical and literary references, especially since the folk genre of the ballad was being re-invented in Romantic literature taking on blatant nationalistic overtones, which, in turn, brought Chopin to his closest point of contact with the literary preoccupations of his contemporaries. There are vague references to Mitzkevich's Ballades, and there is a sense that archaic stories from a remote past are being told. Yet, Chopin avoided explicit programmatic references, as found in the works of Liszt and Schumann, and he envisioned the four Ballades as large-scale elaborations of the poetic ballad. With these four masterpieces of nineteenth century piano music, Chopin reinterpreted the classical sonata form employing a heavily end-weighted structure with variation and transformation functioning as means to achieving integration and synthesis-goals masterfully achieved, particularly in the fourth and final Ballade. © 2010 Christopher Zimmerman.