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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballades: No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 [9’22]; No. 2 in F, Op. 38 [6’42]; No. 3 in A flat, Op. 47 [7’19]; No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 [10’42].
Scherzos: No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20 [9’07]; No. 2 in B flat minor [9’46]; No. 3 in C sharp minor, Op. 39 [7’17]; No. 4 in E, Op. 54 [10’58].
Artur Rubinstein (piano).
Rec. Manhattan Center, New York City, on April 28th-29th (Ballades) and March 25th-26th (Scherzos) 1959. ADD
RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 82876 61396 2 [71’24]


Magnificent, vintage 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 my LPs.

Colin Clarke



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