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ClassicsOnline Home » CHOPIN, F.: Waltzes / Impromptus (Rubinstein) (1953-1957)
This volume continues the Naxos series of Rubinstein’s ‘middle period’ Chopin recordings, begun with the Piano Concertos (8.111296) and followed by the Polonaises (8.111346). Because the HMV/Victor catalogue already included Cortot’s complete traversal of the Waltzes (8.111035), Rubinstein set down only two of them on shellac before making this complete recording in 1954. He had made previous recordings for RCA of two of the Impromptus (Opp. 51 and 66) before taping the four new versions heard on this disc.
Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849): Waltzes • Impromptus
Born in 1887, in Łódź, Poland, Arthur Rubinstein was the youngest of seven children, the sixth being born eight years before him. When he was four, Joseph Joachim tested the boy’s musical talent at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. Rubinstein was not exploited as a child prodigy and at the age of ten returned to Berlin, where Joachim supervised his musical training, and Heinrich Barth taught him piano. At twelve Rubinstein made his début in Berlin playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major, K. 488, with Joachim conducting. The summer of 1903 was spent with Paderewski at his home in Morges and upon his return to Berlin, Rubinstein decided to finish his studies with Barth and go to Paris where he made his début in 1904. Two years later he made his début in New York and during the next ten years lived the life of a touring artist performing in Europe and South America and collaborating with Pablo Casals, Jacques Thibaud and Eugène Ysaÿe.
After the First World War, Rubinstein lived life to the full as performer and socialite, and continued a successful career well into his eighties. In the mid-1950s he played seventeen works for piano and orchestra in five concerts, and in 1961, already in his mid-seventies, played ten recitals at Carnegie Hall. He gave his final recital in London’s Wigmore Hall in June 1976 at the age of 87. He lived on with failing eyesight until the age of 95, completing two volumes of entertaining autobiography titled My Young Years (1973) and My Many Years (1980). He died in 1982 in Geneva, Switzerland.
This 1954 recording was made in Hollywood and was the first time Rubinstein had recorded all fourteen of Chopin’s Waltzes, having previously only recorded Op. 34, No. 1 in 1929 and Op. 64, No. 2 in 1930 for HMV while he was in England. Op. 34, No. 1 was a favourite of Rubinstein’s and the 1929 recording shows all the vigour and confidence of youth where he is eager to display his technique and dashing style. When he played this work as an encore at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 1950 he took even faster tempos (particularly for the closing pages) and ‘played to the gallery’. This later studio recording is more sober in comparison but as a component of the set of fourteen waltzes it is a more satisfying performance. The F major Waltz from Op. 34 and the often bravura Op. 42 are here given in performances that are surprisingly subdued and, as one critic noted at the time of the recording’s release in November 1955, ‘As usual, Mr Rubinstein plays these works as if they were second nature to him—perhaps even with an occasional perfunctoriness—with perfect ease and control and with the aristocratic air that makes his Chopin style so bracing.’ It would seem that Rubinstein is attempting to make the Waltzes sound as a homogeneous set rather than individual encore pieces as they are sometimes treated so that the ‘tradition’ of playing the ‘Minute’ Waltz as fast as possible, or the second section of the C sharp minor Waltz at twice the speed of the preceding section is rejected. Perhaps the most successful here are the more introspective Waltzes from Op. 69 and Op. 70 but it is curious to see that even in 1955 Chopin was still seen as a sickly drawing-room composer prompting one reviewer to comment that Rubinstein, ‘manages to express himself most of the time in healthy, manly fashion. There is air around his playing and most of the melodies are suitably arched.’ Rubinstein recorded the Waltzes again ten years later in Rome in the stereo era, but as is often the way, his earlier recordings are generally preferable to the later ones for greater spontaneity and more character.
Rubinstein had not recorded the first two Impromptus before and these first recordings sound fresh and relaxed. In Op. 29 Rubinstein is far more flexible than in some of the Waltzes; the tempo ebbs and flows to fit the phrases and shape of the music while the ending, which can often sound unconvincing, is handled perfectly. The opening of Impromptu No. 2 sounds almost like a Nocturne in Rubinstein’s hands with his full yet controlled tone and seamless legato. The less popular Impromptu No. 3 was a favourite of Rubinstein who had previously recorded it in 1946 and chose to include it in his recital programme in Moscow in 1964.
All the above recordings were made in a recording studio in Hollywood. An American critic complained about the sound of the Waltzes, ‘The microphone placement seems very close. While the clarity and sonic bite is bracing, the overall sound is hard and a bit tinny.’ In contrast, the reviewer in Gramophone magazine wrote, ‘…his new recording is very good indeed. The quality is superb, richer and more realistic…Rubinstein is at the top of his form and he has been recorded as he deserves.’ The Fantaisie-Impromptu is the only track recorded at a different venue—Manhattan Center in New York—and although also recorded a few years later there is little difference in the sound. The performance is quite chaste; Rubinstein uses no pedal for the opening left hand accompaniment figure and when he comes to the famous melody of the central section in D flat major he seems reticent to play with a big tone and in doing so makes this familiar melody sound fresh and pure. The whole interpretation has a certain poise, and this coupled with Rubinstein’s authority of delivery makes for a satisfying performance.
— © 2010 Jonathan Summers
This volume continues our series of Rubinstein’s “middle period” Chopin recordings (1946–1957) which began with the two Concertos (Naxos Historical 8.111296) and continued with the Polonaises (8.111346). For most of these recordings, Rubinstein was revisiting repertoire he had previously committed to disc during the 1930s. However, because the HMV/Victor catalogue already had Cortot’s complete traversal of the Waltzes, Rubinstein only set down two of them on shellac before making this complete recording in 1954. He had made previous recordings for RCA of two of the Impromptus (Opp. 51 and 66) before taping the versions heard on this disc, but the remainder were new to his discography. All the recordings were transferred from red “Shaded Dog” American RCA LP pressings.
— Mark Obert-Thorn
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CHOPIN, F.: Waltzes / Impromptus (Rubinstein) (195...