CHOPIN: 14 Waltzes; 4 Impromptus – Artur Rubinstein, piano
Naxos Historical 8.111365, 72:31 [Not Distr. in the U.S.] ****:
Editor Mark Obert-Thorn continues his restoration of the so-called “middle period” Chopin inscriptions of Polish virtuoso Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982) made 1946-1957, when the artist essentially discovered that he enjoyed his own sound. The “complete” Waltz set evolved at a Hollywood studio between 6 November and 12 December 1954 in a series of some six sessions. The set of Impromptus derives from both Hollywood and New York City sessions made between 3 November 1953 and 11 March 1957, the Fantasie-Impromptu having been taped last. The fact that HMV had already inscribed the complete waltzes with Alfred Cortot made the project seem redundant, until RCA encouraged both Rubinstein and Brailowsky each to record his thoughts on these pieces for posterity.
Spontaneity and individual character define the set of waltzes with Rubinstein; and even if niceties such as Chopin’s portato indications are not always respected, the sobriety and introspection of the set does much to legitimate Rubinstein as the grand interpreter of Chopin, albeit his own pedagogy sprang from German–by way of Joachim and Barth–rather than Polish soil. The A-flat Major, Op. 34, No. 1 always remained dear to Rubinstein’s heart, and its lilting alternation of tempos and adjusted rubato reveals affection without coarse bravura. The A Minor conveys lyrical melancholy without sentimentality, an aristocratic detachment that graces its passing polyphonies with a wistful countenance. Controlled ease permeates the thoughtful and limpid embellishments that define the eminently vocal style of keyboard writing. The F Major communicates that joie de vivre with which Rubinstein approached much of life itself. Yet the F Major and the ensuing 2/4 A-flat Major Op. 42 may seem subdued, given Rubinstein’s stereotypical repute for color and vivacity. Someday, listeners will realize that the D-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1 waltz must be considered “minute” in the sense of “tiny,” not as the unit of time in which it “ought” to be played. Rubinstein’s unhurried version lasts almost two minutes. its loving curlicues aglitter with refined taste. The eternally familiar C-sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2 here seems almost “Parisian” in its swaying sophisticate’s contours and graduated tempos. The agogically intricate A-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3 allows Rubinstein point up its internal harmonic shifts, a subtle alchemy of waltz and explosive mazurka.
I would agree with commentator Jonathan Summers that the most successful entries become the sets of waltzes from Op. 69 and Op. 70, the five constituting the most introspective dances of the Chopin genre. A touch of tragedy graces “L’Adieu” in A-flat Major. The angular B Minor entry saunters in an idiosyncratic blend of blithe energy and hesitant musings, always poetic. The G-flat Major from Op. 70 has a sense of revelry about it, though the ebb and flow of the rhythm seems staid for Rubinstein. The F Minor personifies dignified refinement of tone and plastic phrase, the ornaments a natural extension of the vocal line. The D-flat Major trips and flutters in elegant balance, its rocking figures almost a lullaby or passing gondola song. The 1830 E Minor Waltz showcases Rubinstein’s grazioso legato at once with his clarion staccati. E Major and G-sharp Minor clash, but they do so in harmonious contention. The dolce section in E Major cedes to a more passionate outburst in what purports to be D-sharp. Rubinstein takes the forceful coda with both hands full of ravishing colors, a tour de force for any age.
Rubinstein does not impose any false profundity on the briskly active A-flat Major Impromptu, rather allowing its middle section a studied introspection. The sense of rubato feels more free than in several of he previous waltzes. Rubinstein opens the expansive F-sharp Major Impromptu with a nocturne’s sensibility, then its variants proceed guilelessly ripe with invention, a close cousin of the Op. 57 Berceuse. The latter half hearkens to the larger ballades. Rubinstein favored the G-flat Major Impromptu, Op. 51, and his facility and aerial approach unites its spirit with the “Butterfly” Etude. Its rainy-day affect and interior harmonies easily influenced Brahms. The Fantasie-Impromptu opens sans pedal, and the famous Rubinstein tone comes to the fore when the D-flat melody launches its rainbows.