〜豊饒なる未知の "ブラームス・ワールド" へ
An Invitation to the Rich but Unknown World of Brahms
– 84 year-old Ruth Slenczynska
By Bunsho Mifune
It was her 7th visit to Japan in June 2009 for the sake of recording 30 piano works by Brahms. Ruth Slenczynska's first visit was in April 2003. Since then her concerts were held some ten times in Okayama during her four-time visit. The highlight was 'the Last Concert commemorating her 80 year-old' in January 2005. Her amazing performance was recorded as eight live recording CDs "The Art of Ruth Slenczynska vol. I - IV."
She might have satisfied with reaching the very top of pianism. She should have never dreamed of climbing a steeper path of creation after four years.
Frankly speaking, it has been my wish for Ruth Slenczynska to record piano pieces by Brahms of the second half of his life. As a matter of fact she has already publicly declared in 2005 that she would rather enjoy the last decade of her life. However, in the summer 2006 I happened to possess and to restore the piano Clara Schumann played on. And Ruth Slenczynska agreed that she would play on it under the thousand-year cherry tree in the north part of Okayama prefecture. This situation led her to play the works by Brahms who was closely related with Clara Schumann.
Having overcome various difficulties, her recital under the cherry blossoms was miraculously successful. At this time she started being willing to record works by the Schumanns and Brahms on the piano once played by Clara Schumann. The Art of Ruth Slenczynska vol.5 Dedicated to Clara Schumann – this one CD is its outcome, which was recorded in November 2006. At the same time Brahms' Opus 117,118,119 and Opus 79 (two rhapsodies) have been already recorded completely. Yet at the last stage of producing CD, "I would be able to play much better! I would like to record Brahms' works once again!" said the master by herself.
Because of her own voice of authority Ruth Slenczynska has started challenging Brahms' piano works again, so the whole works are 30 including Op.76 and Op. 116, and the involved difficulties could be much more.
Thus my wish of recording complete Brahms has come to be fulfilled. On the other hand, I became concerned whether 84 year-old pianist would reach the result that satisfies not only herself but also the public, for no pianist even in his 60s or 70s accomplished it. Experts agree that the 30 piano works (Op.76, 79, 116 – 119) by Brahms are the pinnacle of pianism from the Classical period to the Romanticism. However, there are few pianists who made them recorded. What is more, there is much less performance that gets to the heart of it. One's life itself should attain maturity in order to understand those pieces. When a pianist has arrived at a deep awareness of being able to express it, alas, physical strength and technological excellence are not enough anymore. Isn't it the case for almost all of them? In other words recording piano works by Brahms has been beyond the reach of a pianist.
Ruth Slenczynska has already mastered almost repertoire in her teenage days. Yet it is surprising enough that she has concentrated on Brahms for the first time. Soon I got her letter from New York saying, "Due to your request once again I have to exercise on the piano for eight hours a day. However, my chief concern is that you might feel disappointed at me, for you know well how my evolution has been these several years. I am sure that you would be most disappointed if my next performance were not so good than before!"
I had nothing to reply. In November 2007 I was with her all the time when she went through birth pangs for the sake of recording Brahms. Therefore, I had no idea what kind of struggle she is taking about. I was satisfied enough with her 15 works of Brahms one and a half year ago.
As the result of it almost two years and a half have passed since Ruth Slenczynska spent her time for 30 works of Brahms. She must have ever since exercised terribly hard at her home in New York. Before coming to Japan, she served as a guest professor at Taipei State University of Arts and lectured on the works of Brahms. Even though she declared not to play the piano publicly after her last concert, she also performed Brahms' pieces on the campus concert. In this way she has devoted heart and soul to the recordings this time, willingly having done anything helpful.
After one year and a half interval the sound of her piano filled with youthful energy, stirring our poetical imagination, and her unique inspiration is also in full bloom. "I will leave the property of Brahms in such a state that no other pianist could compete," mentioned Ruth Slenczynska during our recordings. "First, in my performance of Brahms it is fully used of three schools of pianism (Rakhmaninov, Schnabel, Backhaus, Hofmann, Cortot and others) that I have inherited. If a pianist knew only one school of them (Russian, German or French), the expression would have been limited to a certain extent."
Of course she learned under those masters' tutelage in her teenage years, and Slenczynska has already created her own unique style. "The best me is my rival." "When I did well today, it should be better tomorrow." She has embodied these mottos. That is why she has been so serious to prepare herself for the recordings this time, being fully aware of its historical significance.
Having arrived on 7th June in Okayama, she exercised for 9 hours every day at our Liu Sei Yo Memorial Art Museum (Liu Mifune Art Ensemble). The recording date were from 12th to 18th, twice (day and in the evening), altogether for 8 hours a day. According to her wish that she would like to play with a sense of tense feeling, about 10 fans looking on her were also present. It might be the last chance for them to be present at her performance in person.
The major audience consisted of pianists and music related persons. What do you think made them the most be surprised at? It is not her super energy that the elder 84 year-old pianist gave out with her 150 cm tall. When Slenczynska played one by one, every time instantaneously she got a new idea about each work that then enriched the depth of her interpretation.
Special acknowledgment is extended to Mr. Yoshioka, recording engineer, Mr. Ohtani, and to Mr. Matsumoto, piano tuner. Their dedicated devotion for a week, a lot of fans who looked on her, and the support from my family - Slenczynska's great achievement has accomplished in the happy atmosphere, thanks to all of them.
And Slenczynska has woven the pieces of Brahms that even the composer did not know by himself. The unknown door to the rich internal world of Brahms has opened.
|translator Kiyoko Kruzliak|
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