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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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa