Chopin: Waltzes (CD review)

Also, Impromptus. Arthur Rubinstein. RCA 82876-59422-2.

When discussing the
great pianists of the twentieth century, no one could fail to mention the name
of Arthur Rubinstein. Indeed, for many piano enthusiasts, Rubinstein might be
the only name cited. Born in 1887, the Polish-American virtuoso made his piano
debut at the age of seven, continuing to play and record almost continuously
through his eighties, dying in 1982 at the age of ninety-five. Of the man’s
many musical specialities in the course of this amazing career was Chopin, an
interpreter of whom there was none greater. He recorded the Chopin Waltzes several times, this one his
stereo collection from June, 1963.

Rubinstein recorded
the most common fourteen of Chopin’s Waltzes
because those were the ones directly attributable to the composer, as opposed
to the five or six more that scholars discovered after the composer’s death.
Rubinstein played them like few others: cleanly, with vigor but without fuss,
with energy but without eccentricity. Every note seems right, every passage a
work of considered excellence and maturity. Technically, one might hear the Waltzes played in a more letter-perfect
manner, but one cannot doubt the intent of the composer or the pianist in
Rubinstein’s performances.

So, why should one
buy this disc? First, obviously, because there are no better performances of
the Waltzes. Second, because the
album has been remastered and sounds better than ever, clearer and more precise
than in its first CD incarnation from 1984. Third, because the album now
includes as a bonus Chopin’s four Impromptus,
recorded by Rubinstein in 1964 and themselves as good as or better than any
other recording of the pieces on disc. The Opus 66, “Fantasie-Impromptu,” will
break your heart. And fourth, it is because the folks at RCA/Sony offer the
disc at mid price, which is a bargain no music lover should overlook.

It was good to see
RCA (now under the Sony umbrella) back in action a few years ago with a
reissued line of mid-priced Red Seal classics, each a bargain in itself. Of two
other discs I sampled at the time, the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 (82876-59411-2) with Horowitz and the Brahms Violin and Double Concertos with Heifetz and Piatigorsky (82876-59410), stood
out. Although both of the recordings had been available for a few years in
their present remasterings on CD, their availability at mid price is
commendable. Also of interest are the Mahler Fourth with Levine (82876-59413-2), Debussy’s La Mer with Munch (82876-59416-2), Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Richter (82876-59421-2), and Schubert’s Symphony 9 with Wand (82876-59425-2). In
all, there were twenty titles in RCA’s re-released Red Seal Classic Library,
each one as intriguing as the next.


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