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.
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
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.