American Record Guide

January/February 2001



Chopin:  Piano Sonata 3 with 5 Mazurkas; 2 Polonaises; 2 Nocturnes
Eduardus Halim – Reservoir 52592 --73:43

What is one to expect of "Horowitz's Last Pupil", as Harold Schonberg called him?  Early on, Eduardus Halim was noted for his interpretations of the romantic repertoire.  (Please note the emptiness of that last sentence:  in piano circles, that and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee.)  Though he has a Muslim name, Halim is of Chinese descent, was raised in Indonesia, and was trained in Javanese dance as well as the piano.  He took 40 lessons with Horowitz, though the relationship later waned.  An Exotic with fingers, then?  A case for affinity with Chopin can certainly not be made on background, upbringing, or cultural experience.

This program begins with five mazurkas, and they are, frankly , mind-blowing.  Halim has internalized the elusive mazurka rhythms (and there are many rhythmic subtleties to these triple-time dances, subtleties that were celebrated and fought over in Chopin's own time) to the point where they are absolutely convincing:  not subjective, not distorted, not doctrinaire, and most important not mere mimicry of such authoritative Polish-born masters as Ignaz Friedman and Andrzej Wasowski.  Somehow (I would love to know how) Halim speaks what is essentially a forgotten rhythmic language – the language Chopin wrote the mazurkas in – with the command and persuasiveness of a contemporary native speaker.  The same is true of the two Polonaises, which have a tad more nationalist strut about them but are likewise realized with a kaleidoscopic variety of rhythms (and we remember that even Polish pianists have not sounded like this for the better part of a century).  The nocturnes are multi-layered, with every line having an independent integrity, and realized with similar care.  The sonata, saved for last, is the work of a more serious, "public" Chopin, and it is played that way, with great attention to detail but also a fine sense of architecture.

It is not that Halim's interpretive vocabulary is "authentic" or "historically correct"; it is rather that he is aesthetically true to Chopin's music in a way that pianists have not been for more than a century.  Perhaps it is the pianist's dance background that enables him to understand the innate kinesthetics of Chopin's dance music in a way the vast majority of pianists never will – but such speculation, while fascinating, is finally bootless.  The Word "revelatory" is not to be used lightly, though, and Eduardus Halim's Chopin is revelatory.  Buy this recording, give it to Chopin-lovers as a holiday gift, listen and learn, and hope that the greater pianistic world does likewise!