Chopin - Polonaises Nos 1-7. Andante spianato and Grande polonaise, Op 22
Arthur Rubinstein pf
Naxos Historical mono 8 110661 Buy now
(64’ · ADD)
Here, in all their glory, are Rubinstein’s 1934-35 recordings of Chopin’s six mature Polonaises framed by examples of his early and late genius (Opp 22 and 61 respectively). Together with his early discs of the Mazurkas, Scherzos and Nocturnes, these performances remain classics of an unassailable calibre, their richness and character increased rather than diminished by the passage of time.
For Schumann, the Polonaises were ‘cannons buried in flowers’ and whether epic or confiding, stark or florid, their national and personal fervour is realised to perfection by Rubinstein. Listen to the Andante spianato from Op 22 and you’ll hear a matchless cantabile, a tribute to a bel canto so often at the heart of Chopin’s elusive and heroic genius. Try the central meno mosso from the First Polonaise and witness an imaginative freedom that can make all possible rivals sound stiff and ungainly by comparison. The colours of the A major Polonaise are unfurled with a rare sense of its ceremonial nature, and the darker, indeed tragic, character of its sombre C minor companion is no less surely caught. The two ‘big’ Polonaises, Opp 44 and 53, are offered with a fearless bravura (you can almost hear the audience’s uproar after Rubinstein’s thunderous conclusion to the latter), rhythmic impetus and idiomatic command beyond criticism.
The simple truth is that Rubinstein played the piano as a fish swims in water, free to phrase and inflect with a magic peculiarly his own, to make, in Liszt’s words, ‘emotion speak, weep and sing and sigh’. The sound may seem dated but Naxos’s transfers are excellent, and to think that all this is offered at super-budget price…