Chopin here, acting as a timely reminder
of why Artur Rubinstein’s interpretations
of this composer’s music are held in
such high esteem. These are considered,
mature readings with no trace of self-serving
virtuosity about them.
The First Ballade exemplifies
Rubinstein’s approach beautifully. The
balance between the slower, more overtly
lyrical sections and the more virtuosic
ones is difficult to achieve; mainly
because of a great temptation to wallow
in the more song-like parts. Rubinstein
marries the two components, making the
structure sound entirely natural. His
finger-work is absolutely exemplary.
The famous coda dances rather than giving
a hell-for-leather sprint, perfectly
in keeping with Rubinstein’s outlook.
The second Ballade
is given in an interpretatively exciting
account. ‘Interpretatively’ so because
here he takes risks with the repose/dynamic
alternations, the slower ones being
really interior and delicate. If the
Fourth Ballade presents a memorable,
ghostly waltz, a shadow of times past,
it is possibly the Third that offers
the most perfect example of Rubinstein’s
art in its perfect balance and crystalline
articulation. There seems to be an added
layer of expressive warmth here radiating
from the way the first phrase blossoms
out of its single-note beginning.
The Scherzos offer
a fair amount of surprises. The chords
of the opening of the First is almost
petulant, the speed and clarity that
follows is simply amazing; and Rubinstein
has a gently rocking contrasting section
that never even hints at being somnambulant.
Although all four offer much to the
listener, again there is one that stands
out, this time a magisterial Scherzo
No. 2 in B flat minor. Rubinstein’s
delicacy remains in the memory, as does
his sonorous ‘chorale’ ... as does the
evenness of his left-hand accompaniment
to the famous cantabile right-hand melody.
Characteristically, the use of the sustaining
pedal is kept almost to a minimum, allowing
Chopin’s voice-leading to speak clearly.
Throughout this disc,
Rubinstein’s search for clarity, his
emphatic refusal to use the music to
serve his own ego and his evident respect
for Chopin’s text make for compelling
listening. Few pianists can even dream
of attaining these heights and listeners
should think themselves lucky that such
generous measure is available at mid-price.
The CD transfer seems to have an added
layer of depth I do not remember from