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Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Alfred Cortot - Vol. 2: Waltzes

No. 1 in E-flat Op. 18 (1831) [4:39]
No. 2 in A-flat Op. 34 No. 1 (1835) [4:49]
No. 3 in a minor Op. 34 No. 2 (1831) [4:21]
No. 4 in F Op. 34 No. 3 (1838) [2:17]
No. 5 in A-flat Op. 42 (1840) [3:46]
No. 6 in D-flat Op. 64 No. 1 (1847) [1:42] [1:39]
No. 7 in c-sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2 (1847) [3:08] [3:09]
No. 8 in A-flat Op. 64 No. 3 (1847) [2:59]
No. 9 in A-flat Op. 69 No. 1 (1835) [3:10] [3:11] [3:03]
No. 10 in b minor Op. 69 No. 2 (1829) [2:56]
No. 11 in G-flat Op. 70 No. 1 (1835) [2:03] [2:31]
No. 12 in f-minor Op. 70 No. 2 (1841) [2:29]
No. 13 in D-flat Op. 70 No. 3 (1829) [2:48]
No. 14 in e-minor (posth.) (1830) [2:21]
Fantasie in f-minor Op. 49 (1841) [11:35]
Alfred Cortot (piano)
rec. 19-20 June 1934, EMI Abbey Road Studio, London; 13 March 1929, 13 May 1931; Small Hall, Queen’s Hall, London; 4 July 1933, 4 Nov 1949, Abbey Road Studio, London
NAXOS 8.111035 [68:38]


There is precious little I can include in this review concerning the Chopin of Alfred Cortot (1877-1962) that has not been said before many times over. A true master of the piano, his interpretations of Chopin have been an inspiration to countless pianists and piano enthusiasts for decades.

Let’s not forget that he also turned his hand to transcription. There is, on a CD I have reviewed for this website, a recording of Cortot’s piano transcription of the Franck violin sonata that enthusiasts will find a satisfying example of Cortot’s forays in this direction (review).

The disc on hand is the second volume of five re-releasing Cortot’s Chopin 78s. The sound quality is wonderful considering the age of these recordings. The transfer engineer is justly given a bio in the liner notes just as any performer would. His work on these recordings certainly merits such augmented attention.

The cleaned up recordings allow one to pay closer attention to the man’s technical prowess. As is evident from even a casual listen, these are a collected treasure illustrating the subtle and difficult art of rubato. Cortot moves well beyond pauses or changes in tempi — his is a truly fluid playing style with a remarkable rubato in both hands independently. By this I mean that there are two simultaneous rubati occurring at any one time and the result is a surprising leap from "Chopin-on-the-page" to "Chopin-as-music". Engaging syncopations and catches leave the listener no choice but to pay yet closer attention to this amazing playing. In an age where interpretations have given way to often virtually-interchangeable performances of the music as it appears exactly in the score, this disc points the way to how things could be done. Cortot’s performances — both of them on this disc — of the Minute waltz alone are unlike any others you’ll hear..

That said, for all their dazzle, these performances are not perfect. Cortot recorded at white heat in 1934. Most of these pieces — all but five — were recorded over a 24 hour period in the June of that year. Many of these have slips and wrong notes. In some of the pieces — the Op. 70 No. 1 and Op. 64 No. 2 especially — Cortot often omits the third beat of the left hand. The drama and fire of Chopin is here, but such license certainly does not reflect the composer’s intent.

So here they are, flawed yet alive with fantasy, sounding better than ever, and at a price that only makes their status of "mandatory purchase" easier to bear.

David Blomenberg

 

 



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