Steinway was spectacularly recorded in late 2007 by Phoenix Audio, and this release is on her own label (ZMI = Zayas Masterworks, Inc.). The performances are on the same high level as the Etudes (below), and this is another recording all Chopinophiles should seek out. While there is no lack of virtuosic playing, the overriding adjective to be used here is “musical”. I can find you plenty of performances of these works at faster tempos or more overtly showy, but none with better phrasing, voicing, or legato lines. Zayas's musicality and insights are always in control.
Another benefit of this release is the nine-page essay by Benjamin Folkman. While Folkman (whose name I recognize from long ago when he played a significant role in getting ‘Switched On Bach’ before the public) may use too many adjectives, his keen insights make it well worth wading through phrases like “turbulent nocturnal forest susurration heightens the poet’s joy at winning his beloved”.
I do have one single disc with both the four Ballades and the four Scherzos squeezed in, but most common is a single CD with one or the other set, filled in with miscellaneous Chopin pieces. Zayas adds a substantial amount of Liszt in addition to the eight big Chopin works. The first disc has three pairs of Liszt song transcriptions: ‘Maiden's Wish’ and ‘My Joys’ by Chopin; ‘Erlkönig’ and ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ by Schubert; ‘Frühlingsnacht’ and ‘Widmung’ by Schumann. Liszt would be quite proud to hear these performances, with just the right balance of clear and shaped melody floating above devilishly difficult accompaniment figurations. Zayas eschews the more commonly heard super-virtuoso approach in favor of a beautiful rendition of each song, with appropriately exciting climaxes. One is never bowled over by the number of notes she manages to control so effectively, but rather by how well these great songs can work as solo piano pieces. The Waltz from Faust is played in a manner much closer to the original in the opera rather than in a big piano showpiece. Possibly the one weakness for me in this release is the lack of blatant virtuosity for the sake of virtuosity, which I often enjoy, and which Liszt is the supreme master of. Nevertheless, I am very pleased to have these performances and will return to them often.
American Record Guide, November/December 2009