In his booklet notes to this CD, Kovacevich names Artur Rubinstein's "beautiful" stereo recording of the Chopin waltzes as his first exposure to this music. I can well believe it, because Rubinstein's trademarks are all over this new CD: an endlessly singing line, an aristocratic touch, and an avoidance of display for the sake of display. Like Rubinstein, Kovacevich hears nothing effete or fussy in Chopin's music. Compared to Beethoven and Schubert, Chopin has not figured prominently in Kovacevich's discography. One is happy to wait, however, for performances as finished and mature as these.
Kovacevich has recorded the standard fourteen waltzes – that is to say he omits the five "Opus posthumous" waltzes many other pianists have included. Furthermore, he has recorded them not in numerical order or by opus number, but in presumed chronological order. Thus, we start with the Waltz in D flat minor ("No. 13," Op. 70, #3), which was written in 1829. The famous "Grande Valse Brillante" in E flat ("No. 1," Op. 18) doesn't appear until track five, and so on. Lastly, Kovacevich has not contented himself with the published scores of these works, but has gone back to manuscripts and to other authorities (Fontana, for example) for "ornamentation and harmonic variants." Don't worry, nothing weird happens; these still are Chopin's waltzes. It is nice, though, to hear Kovacevich playing this music with the same intelligence and discernment that he has brought to Beethoven's sonatas.
Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales – another Rubinstein specialty – are an unusual but not inappropriate complement to Chopin's waltzes. They owe less to Chopin than they do to Schubert, but that doesn't detract from their inclusion here. Again, Kovacevich has taken a risk and surpassed himself, and everyone (including the listener) has come up a winner. He plays these waltzes with tenderness and precision, and also with the faintest trace of irony. I, for one, would very much like to hear Kovacevich do an album of Ravel, if what he has done here is typical.
The engineering is more warm than brilliant. Much the same could be said of these performances. This is a fine CD in every way.
Copyright © 2006, Raymond Tuttle