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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Waltzes opp.18, 34, 42, 64, 69, 70, posth. in E minor, Impromptus opp. 29, 36, 51, 66
Arthur Rubinstein (piano)
Dates and locations not given
BMG CLASSICS RCA RED SEAL 82876 59422 2 [70:22]

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Some time ago I wrote about this pianistís first recording of the Mazurkas (now on Naxos) and noted that "with Rubinstein one always has the image of a pianist sitting in a room with a roof over his head". This was a distinct shortcoming in Chopinís poetic evocations of rural and agricultural Poland. But the Waltzes are music for the great ballroom, and who better to play us a Waltz than Mr. Rubinstein?

If I sound slightly reductive I donít mean it, for, as I listened to these performances with increasing and unclouded delight, I felt that there really was nobody, before or since, better able to play us a Waltz than Mr. Rubinstein. He has such a completely independent left hand and it dances from beginning to end. I donít mean it sticks rigidly to a one-two-three, one-two-three waltz rhythm, but it the basis of the performances and all its subtle inflexions nonetheless never lose the spirit of the dance; you could dance to these performances.

And upon this basis the glorious melodies are free to sing with all their ardour, poetry and brilliance; how ineffably beautiful are the major sections of the A minor, and how much more poignant are the outer sections when they are not made dolefully turgid. While, at the other extreme, how the so-called "Minute Waltz" gains from Rubinsteinís unhurried 1:53 traversal of it, the brilliance residing in the touch rather in mere digital dexterity. And how alive he is to every contrapuntal strand.

The Impromptus, too, are pure "indoor" music, made for performance before an admiring public. And yet the genius of Rubinstein is to take them out of the salon and realise the universal dimensions, as in the ostinatos of the F sharp major and its touches of ardent heroics.

When I was a young student the recommended performances of the Waltzes were these and Lipattiís. Influenced by a BBC "Building a Library" programme I got the Lipatti. I donít regret it for his more concert oriented approach thrilled me at the time and I wonder if I would have appreciated Rubinstein in those days. For years his Chopin seemed to me unduly steady and a bit dry; I have the idea that young people often do react in this way. Nowadays I find him inexhaustibly fascinating and, if you donít respond, I suggest you put him on one side and try again later. Sooner or later you will have a unique experience.

As for the apparent dryness, by the way, Rubinsteinís supersensitive finger control led him to give a special colour to every note within even the most complex textures, with the result that he needed less pedal than most other pianists to "fill out" the texture, producing an effect which may strike the lazy ear as dry.

The keynote of all the performances here, however, is their apparent simplicity (apparent Ė try doing it yourself!). As each phrase unfurls, it seems so obvious that this is the way it should go.

The recordings are clearly not recent but they are less brittle and clangy than they used to be (I have an LP pressing of the Impromptus). So here is 70 minutes of some of the greatest pianism committed to disc Ė donít miss it.

Christopher Howell


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