Disappearing Tradition and Passing on Legend

By Hiroshi Yamazumi, Editor-in-chief, critic

In the evening of 31st January 2005 the last master who has inherited traditional European playing technique was walking off the stage. It is Mrs. Ruth Slenczynska, the supreme pianist. Okayama Symphony Hall was packed with full audiences in the evening, whose applause did not die down as if they were reluctant to part from her.

There are many legends that have woven around the pianist Mrs. Ruth Slenczynska. Her last public performances were held in two days: Three Concertos for piano on 30th January and the piano recital on the following day.

The two CDs (The Art of Ruth Slenczyska Vol.IV) are from the live recordings of her last recital in the evening of 31st January.

Every woven beautiful tone conveys her warmhearted personality exquisitely.

As an editor-in-chief and critic I have worked for thirty years: Publishing New Globe Encyclopedia of World Music, reprinting of performances by famous composers such as Prokofiev, Scriabin and Saint-Saens, recordings and photographing of previous famous masters. Therefore, I had abundant opportunity for listening to performances by many pianists including younger ones. Frankly speaking, few of them were emotionally inspiring. Today’s style of performance is to play on the piano with strength, grandly, correctly, superbly and let the audience listen to it in the best way − the reality is far from something emotionally inspiring. And yet a pianist belongs to musicians, never being a typist …

Under such circumstances the encounter with Mrs. Ruth Slenczynska has been a startlingly pleasant surprise. It is soul-shaking experience that revives memories of what are very precious but forgotten somewhere far away.

Mrs. Slenczynska is eighty years old, even though every her performance makes me forget about it. What is more, she is less than 150 cm tall. Her hands are rather small; they might be smaller than Scriabin who could not span seven degrees of keyboard. Some of his performances show that his hands are small depending on passages. As for Mrs. Slenczynska, however, we never think of it. Instead her every tone sounds so beautifully; it is ineffable that every note is preciously performed.

I have had many opportunities to see her performance closely, and especially her fingering is excellent. It sometimes appeared as if by magic. At the same time, her fingers’ leaving from keyboard is also beautiful. It seems to me as if the keyboard returns according to the will of her fingers; I do not mean that the keyboard returns naturally when fingers are left from them. Therefore, it is her excellent masterpiece how sensitively and beautifully she leaves fingers from the keyboard. That is why her fine touching, unique texture of her tone, and her pianissimo that is everlasting in strength and finely shiny could be expressed. This kind of finely timed touching cannot easily be acquired. Continuing unrelenting exercise day after day might be the only one way.

Besides, she keeps her physical position below. It is totally different from many of recent pianists who place themselves over the keyboard. It is not because Mrs. Slenczynska is not so tall, for she keeps her chair in a low position. They say that Glenn Gould also had his own chair with him in order to keep his position below. I bear witness from my own observation of many previous masters at their photographing and recordings; Generally speaking, they kept rather lower position. And that is the source of exquisite touching. Very flexible and strong arms and wrists that are supported by stable physical composition − they are truly necessary for it. What is more, how perfect her finely timed relaxing manner!

Sometimes Mrs. Slenczynska is called “ET” affectionately. I would like to describe some of her superhuman aspects.

Her last performance was carried out in two days; on 30th and 31st January. The program on 30th is titled with Three Great Concertos for Piano, which are by Liszt, Chopin and Tchaikovsky − all at once in the evening. I mean many of music fans understand very well that it is something extraordinary. A lot of masters had their last performance at their retiring, and most of their programs mainly consist of little pieces. It is not uncommon that there often would be a series of embarrassing mishaps. As for Mrs. Slenczynska, her excellent performance enchanted the audience. Next, together with the orchestra she finished recordings for more than one hour at the same hall where people were gone. At the entrance of the hall there were more than 100 fans waiting for her. She gave her signature to every one of them with shaking hands. And her smile was always with her!

The following day 31st she started exercising on the piano early in the morning. Next, she had recordings in the concert hall. Having finished rehearsal in the same hall, her last recital started. The program of the day consists of Chopin’s four Scherzos and four Ballades all at once; later four pieces were added from Prokofiev’s Cinderella. How amazing! We almost forget Mrs. Slenczynska is eighty years old. Of course, her spiritual vitality is strong. Her perfectly timed relaxing manner must enable her to do so, for even masters of martial arts might wonder about it. They say Mrs. Slenczynska has never been injured about her fingers or arms. The fact eloquently witnesses her finely timed relaxing manner.

There is one more thing I would like to mention after her last performance. Her keeping a proper distance from the composer’s work is by far the best. Only Fritz Kreisler might have ever performed with placing such an exquisite distance. It is neither too much into the work nor expressing too much emotion. It does not mean, however, turning away from the work. Her performance makes no parade of her technique. Mysteriously deep and broad phrases and dynamically alive rhythm, nimble fingers that have lifelong discipline, eurhythmic strength and very clear in every voice part – all of these characteristics show the culmination of pianism, which certifies the fact that she is one of the orthodox pianists who has inherited from the classic school and the Romantics in the late modern period and present age. The countenance of her performance expresses her fascinating personality who loves music from the bottom of her heart.

Mr. Bunsho Mifune has introduced Mrs. Ruth Slenczynska to Japan for the first time. Having founded Liu MAER label, he has organized her last performance. His contribution is awarded for Distinguished Service for cultural merit of Okayama Prefecture. Sincerely I would like to offer our congratulations!

translator Kiyoko Kruzliak

The Art of Ruth Slenczynska IV

20世紀最後の巨匠 前人未踏のショパン
Jan. 31st, 2005 岡山シンフォニー・ホール(ライブ録音)
Steinway made in 1926 in Liu Mifune Art Ensemble
Ruth Slenczynska (Piano)

80歳の超人ピアニスト ルース・スレンチェンスカが、自らの76年の演奏人生を賭けた最後のコンサート。
ラフマニノフ、コルトー、ホフマン、シュナーベルの教えを受け継ぐ唯一のピアニスト、20世紀最後 の巨匠が後世に残したピアノ芸術の金字塔!

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