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Anatole Leikin, professor of music at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is author of The Performing Style of Alexander Scriabin (Ashgate) and editor of the Sonatas volume in the new Complete Chopin critical edition from Peters.

Moscow-trained, Leikin has a natural bent for Russ ian-style mysticism, which may explain the title of this intriguing book. Eliciting landmark performances from Raoul Koczalski, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Rudolf Serkin, Jeanne-Marie Darré, Ivan Moravec, Murray Perahia and Rafał Blechacz, among others, Chopin’s 24 Préludes Op 28 are no more inherently mysterious than other great keyboard music. Robert Schumann, who sometimes got carried away, termed parts of it ‘morbid, feverish, repellent’.

The often eccentric critic James Huneker and querulous amateur pianist André Gide complained about the second Prélude in A minor, seconded by Leikin who describes its melody as ‘not at all Chopinesque: it is rigid and monotonous … the left hand accompaniment consists of bizarre alternations between hollow and sharply dissonant intervals’. Yet numerous fine pianists have rendered these passages convincingly, so why cavil?

Leiken makes some practical observations, such as that while some individual pieces are too short to stand alone in concert programmes, Chopin himself only played selections from Op 28 in public. A biographical- historical investigation of a suggestion by Franz Liszt about Chopin’s affinity with the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine (who inspired Liszt’s own Les préludes) is evocative. It is, however, hampered by a cack-handed translation by Tamah Swenson of Lamartine’s poem – awkward even as a crib – included in an appendix.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing