Like it or not, success in the world of recorded music (classical, pop, jazz or otherwise) no longer, if it ever did, results exclusively from musical excellence. Rather, what is required is the coalescing of good music and a compelling backstory in order to command listener and record label attention. Though not a simple binary, examples abound, of course, of music more heavily weighted in one area, and not the other. There is the classic “style-over-substance” designation. Conversely, examples are many of truly great playing that has no extra musical narrative to help push its reception towards broader recognition.
As music lovers, I am sure that we can all think of examples that reside in either of these two categories. Rarely, do both imperatives come together. But, thankfully such is the case on Ruth Slenczynska’s My Life In Music, new from Decca Records. The music: Samuel Barber, Debussy, Grieg, Bach and, of course, Chopin (Slenczynska had earned a reputation as among the most celebrated of Chopin interpreters while still a child prodigy) is, given the considerable time spent working on this repertoire, predictably amazingly played, recorded, interpreted and executed. But it is the extra musical bits, most notably the fact that this 2022 album was recorded when Slenczynska was 97-years old, representing a return to the Decca label after an absence of nearly 60 years, that makes this recording both a satisfying musical statement and a punctuation note on a fascinating life in music that I knew little about prior to the record’s release, the ensuing press and the considerable interest in this remarkable story.