Ruth Slenczynska’s Studio Return

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 10

Ruth Slenczynska’s remarkable life story is well known to many piano mavens. Her 1958 autobiography, Forbidden Childhood, describes in harrowing detail the trauma she endured as an internationally acclaimed child performer, dominated by her father’s rigorous, stressful, and sadistic practice regimen. After years of abuse, the teenage Slenczynska rebelled and broke from her father, withdrawing from music. She came back to the piano in her mid-20s and never looked back, enjoying a long and fruitful career as a performer and educator.

In 2021, the 96-year-old pianist returned to the recording studio for the first time in ages, setting down a variety of works that hold special personal and professional significance. Judging from the results, Slenczynska retains a good amount of her erstwhile facility and equilibrium, albeit with a somewhat reduced dynamic range.

She plays Rachmaninov’s Daisies and G major Op. 32 No. 5 Preludes with impressive suppleness, nuance, and singing tone. Two Samuel Barber pieces, the Nocturne and a movement from his early cycle Fresh from West Chester, receive all the point and character they need, while Debussy’s Girl with the Flaxen Hair receives a particularly tender and understated reading.

The veteran pianist understandably holds back in the Chopin F minor Fantasy’s climaxes, yet young pianists can learn from her overt drama and variety of articulation in the opening pages. It must be said, however, that Slenczynska’s fingers tread cautiously and laboriously through the Chopin E-flat Waltz, the Chopin Op. 10 No. 3’s central episode, and Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. She starts Chopin’s Berceuse at a modest and steady pace, yet the playing gets progressively slower and heavier as the music unfolds. The pianist likens her super-slow tempo for Chopin’s F major Prelude to ascending to heaven, and she makes her conception work.

Bach’s C-sharp major Prelude and Fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I features a few “old school” ritards and breath marks, but also subtle dynamic shadings and felicities of voicing. Indeed, I find Slenczynska’s latter-day Bach playing more engaging and insightful compared to the hard-nosed facility of her early 1950s Bach recordings reissued by Ivory Classics some years ago. Decca’s production team captures Slenczynska’s worthy artistry with care and consideration on every level.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Album Title: My Life In Music
Reference Recording: None for this collection

Works by Bach, Barber, Chopin, Debussy, Grieg, & Rachmaninov

  • Ruth Slenczynska (piano)

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