CHOPIN: 14 Waltzes; Barcarolle in F-sharp Major; Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2; Mazurka in C-sharp Minor, Op. 50, No. 3 – Dinu Lipatti, piano
EMI Classics 9 65930 2, 64:48 ****:
Recorded in July 1950, the Chopin Waltzes with Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950) have remained a staple of the classical collector’s world, a touchstone for both beauty and elegance. Incredibly strong fingers and a consummate technique marked Lipatti’s style, honed by the Romanian school and the combined efforts of Nadia Boulanger and Alfred Cortot. Were it not for the warm expressivity of Lipatti’s playing–even in bold strokes, as in Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso–he would recall Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, whose playing projects the same digital perfection, but without Lipatti’s translucent compassion for his repertory. His untimely death from Hodgkins Disease robbed this earth of a consummate artist, a pianist and composer, a truly creative interpreter whose insights derived from within the score and without, as an Apollinian cultivator of intrinsic form.
Lipatti touted his own presentation of the Chopin fourteen waltzes, in which he preferred to perform the brilliant No. 2 in A-flat, Op. 34, No. 1, last. What makes the performances eternally appealing we can attribute to the natural schwung in Lipatti’s style, the easy grace of expression–as in the G-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 1–the entirely Parisian lilt that suits the salon and the concert hall at once. Lipatti’s top line remains a horn or flute choir of brisk clarity, as in the B Minor, Op. 69, No. 2, his trill astonishing in its flexible aggression, as in the A-flat (the 2/4 waltz), Op. 42. The sheer scamper of notes in their flawless intonation, either in broken chords or in legato, never lose their essential singing line, as in the Schubertian F Minor, Op. 70, No. 2, in which the figures tumble or shimmer in demure majesty. Lipatti’s “grace” notes justify the term at every turn, the basic tempo in the left hand a rock that lies beneath a suggestive mercurial surface.
The Op. 18 gallops in staccato figures, limpid, a machine gun filled with colored candy. The arches and brisk figures move so quickly but with such aristocratic vocal acuity, we forget these waltzes are beyond dancing. The E Minor Waltz transmits many of the same qualities, yet even its dark color never sinks into a parody of morbid fascination with Byronism. The pearly play seems to evolve of itself, suffused with inner light and charmed poetry. The A Minor inverts the breezy Viennese element and offers the perfect salon dream in legato and trilled effects, the extended aria etched in small rubato-laden phrases whose cumulative arch seems as inevitable as fate. The A-flat, Op. 64, No. 3 makes us wish we had more mazurkas–and the Fourth Ballade–than the colossal Op. 50, No. 3. The D-flat “Minute” Waltz, Op. 69, No. 1 lasts almost two minutes, but its fleet energy derives from an inexhaustible fount of divine power. The A-flat Major, Op. 34, No. 1 Lipatti had to exclude from his last recital for lack of human strength, although he did manage a Bach chorale as a farewell to life. Here, the A-flat sparkles with coy savoir faire, soft finesse, and incomparable fluency.
The Barcarolle (21 April 1948) must have yielded to Lipatti’s mentor Cortot infinite degrees of satisfaction, rife as the performance is with every kind of metric and harmonic nuance and degree of emotional shade. The phrase balances alone warrant our awe, unless the lucidity of the trills and the graduated swelling of the musical line happen to compel our collective wonder. An arioso-recitative leads to the ostinato that defines the gondola’s liquid song, over which the tapestry of harmonic, contrapuntal color attests to Chopin’s infallible late style. Lipatti, moreover, hardly gives us a passive rendition, as he swaggers and thunders the undulating line, regal and persuasive in every bar, in each intimately refined trill.
The D-flat Major Nocturne (20 February 1947) might be made for Queen Mab, and Mercutio performs it for his Verona companions. The gossamer threads combine, spread, diffuse themselves in melted poems among a thousand stars and lovers’ sighs. The cadenza suggests what miracles Lipatti might have made of the Chopin Berceuse. Finally, the Mazurka in C-sharp Minor (12 July 1950) in a performance–one of two I admire greatly, the other by Kapell–of ravishing temperament, a dance in canonic figures whose metrics slide in and out of the beat. The more martial impulses carry a national flavor and authority that assert themselves with brazen softness and deft coloration. A touch of intimate anguish invests the last haunted page, a testament to that tragic star Dinu Lipatti bore on his brow.