P0047. JAN SMETERLIN: The Nocturnes (Chopin). (Germany) 2-Philips 438 967, recorded 1954, France. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 028943896726
"The Polish pianist Jan Smeterlin (1892-1967) left a small discography, crowned by his Chopin Nocturne cycle recorded for Philips in 1954, reissued 40 years later on CD. Annotator James Methuen-Campbell accurately discusses Smeterlin’s tendency to go his own way with Chopin’s markings, often reversing the dynamics and alternating articulations. Tempos are fast to the point of rushing through passages that could use more breathing room, such as Op. 32 #2’s shockingly brisk middle section, Op. 55 #2’s transitional measures, and Op. 72 #1’s climaxes.
However, the genius behind Smeterlin’s Nocturnes lies in his mesmerizing handling of melodies. Phrases transpire in conversational fashion, oblivious to barlines, with nearly every accent and dynamic inflection falling in an unexpected yet logical place. Each selection bears this characteristic out. Memorable examples include Op. 15 #3’s magically-voiced central chorale-like episode; the refreshing freedom from sentimentality Smeterlin brings to the often hackneyed Op. 9 #2 E-flat Nocturne; Op. 37 #2’s delicately honed double notes; and the rarefied textural layering he achieves in Op. 48 #2’s final pages. You might generalize Smeterlin’s Nocturnes as an 'old school' counterpart to Nelson Freire’s similar, intimately scaled traversals. While the sonics are boxy even by 1954 standards, Smeterlin’s multi-hued tonal palette definitely comes across. No Chopin connoisseur should miss this release."
- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
“Mr. Smeterlin treats Chopin’s music like the old friend it is to him, with a warmth and love that sometimes becomes sentimental, and with a rhythmic freedom that borders on the capricious. It is an old- school approach, full of of individuality which finds special effects in the music that no one else does,”
- Raymond Ericson, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 20 Jan., 1967
"The playing of Jan Smeterlin is new to me. I have been aware of his name for some time, he was a close friend of the great Polish composed Karol Szymanowski who dedicated to Smeterlin a number of his Mazurkas, but only very recently have I had the pleasure of hearing a number of his recordings. To my mind, he is unquestionably one of the great interpreters of Chopin having that quality that can almost only come from having drunk the water of Polish mountain streams and breathed the very air of Poland itself. Just listen to his play the hauntingly beautiful Nocturne in c sharp minor. If ever the poet spoke ...
And then I heard Jan Smeterlin play Brahms and was transported to a time when pianists did not eat this kind of music for breakfast, rather taking the time to greet it and engage it in conversation. I grew up with Julius Katchen's Brahms, but when I hear it played this way I can visualize the composer and the pianist in the salon taking turns at the piano, one saying, 'Play it this way', and the other saying, 'Yes, but how about this way?'.