Last night I sat down at my Steinway M grand and quickly shuffled over to my Haddorff (known as “Haddy”) fully intending to record some comments on the lovely C# minor Waltz. As I looked at the dotted-eighth/sixteenth figure that permeated the composition making it stand out as unique among Chopin’s Waltzes, I suddenly experienced a wave of uncertainty about how I wanted to play it. Should it be more lighthearted with a short ending, or might it be more appropriate to drag the rhythm in a legato fashion across the measure? Executing the figure in these two distinctly different ways would affect the mood and overall interpretation. Next, I had to consider tempo. Was I going to embrace a slower or faster pace, taking rubato into consideration.
Here’s where I was motivated to check some You Tube performances for guidance, though in a previous blog I had stridently opposed the idea of students listening to recordings of a work during their initial baby-step learning process. (I had referred to the CD enclosed in the Palmer edition of Chopin, An Introduction to His Music in my discussion)
Notwithstanding this aforementioned admonition, I sought out the following videos to make life even more confusing for myself. Just the same, I will comment on each performance and what I liked or disliked about it.
Vladimir Ashkenazy: This gets FIVE STARS! *****
This one replaces the you tube previously posted that was no longer available:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkJs2QwgzRs (Artist is not seen, but heard)
For me this reading had the essence of Chopin’s Romantic style.
The opening theme was played beautifully, perhaps not with consistency in the execution of the pervasive dotted-eighth/16th rhythm but that somehow added to the extemporaneous quality of the performance. The flood of eighths on the second page had a beautifully rounded sweep that I loved, and they moved briskly along but not out of control. The middle section in Db was gorgeously played, and not too slow or fast. All in all I favored this interpretation that also fleshed out inner voices when pertinent adding to its beauty.
Ingrid Fliter (newly added) FIVE STARS!*****
For me this was a beautifully styled performance with an interesting rolled chord in the opening. I liked the pace, and a tempo rubato that was tastefully applied. Fliter played fluidly with lovely shades of color and immaculate phrasing. The middle Db section (piu lento) was in divine contrast to the opening theme and piu mosso 8th notes. She fleshed out the parallel Major tonality without overdoing it. Finally, this was a well-rounded, Romantically inspired reading.
Evgeny Kissin: A bit too slow and somber.
This was a slower approach to the same Waltz. Very loving, lyrical playing but setting a different mood. I found it interesting that my tutorial would have used this tempo in the practicing phase, if not a tad slower, but ultimately I felt that the spirit of the Waltz might have been better reflected at a brisker pace.
The one section of the work that I found disconcerting, was the middle Db section, where suddenly Kissin played with intensity, elevating the dynamic. I was bit jarred by this. It was as if he had intended to exaggerate the transition of C# minor on the first page, to what would be heard as the Parallel Major (brighter perhaps) in the supposedly slower section, but spelled in FLATS (e.g. C# minor to Db Major–an enharmonic relationship) The Db interlude is marked piu lento or “more slowly” suggesting perhaps a feeling of reflection but I didn’t sense that coming through at this point.
Kissin’s stream of 8ths on the second page, had an inherent swirl, beautifully rendered though slower than I would have preferred, rounding out a reading that was more somber than Ashkenazy’s.
I started out embracing the beauty of this performance but was jarred by the last statement of the opening theme. Suddenly the pianist, broke loose and changed her approach. Instead of a melancholy charm that pervaded her playing to that point, Yuja Wang played the theme with an over intensity that seemed quite incongruous to her original conception of the composition and she fleshed out an inner voice with accents that just didn’t seem to fit. I liked her reflective Db middle section more than Kissin’s, but the stream of 8ths on page 2, were rendered a bit too slowly and sadly. The tempo also
seemed to change when this section recurred.
Yuja performing the same Waltz at the age of 11 or 12 (a different approach)
The 8th notes fell into the piu mosso range, and moved right along. (consistently played when the section returned) Although the recording environment could have been better, an intrinsically musical performance came through.
Valentina Lisista FIVE STARS! *****
This was a heart-rending performance. I especially loved the pacing of it, though I might have preferred a slightly slower (piu lento) middle Db section. But otherwise the artist played in the Chopin style with a beautiful rubato. Her stream of 8th notes on the second page and recurring throughout the work, felt lusciously round and at a tempo that moved them along, (piu mosso=more animated) unlike Kissin and Wang’s approach, where these groups of notes were played slowly and gloomily.
Arthur Rubenstein: FIVE STARS: ***** (Excuse the scratchy sound track)
Here again, the celebrated interpreter of Chopin’s music shined! The opening was gorgeously rendered, and the stream of 8ths following were indeed, piu mosso moving along, with lovely, shaped arcs. There were no incongruous shifts in the playing and the Db section was exquisitely rendered. One may perhaps question the very slow conclusion of the Waltz, but that broadening or ritardando was understandable because of the Romantic flair that Rubinstein possessed and how he wanted the piece to have a convincing taper as it fell away gracefully.
I’m sure many listeners will prefer a vast array of performances posted on You Tube but these are just a sprinkling that I chose to compare.
What about Art Tatum’s jazzed up version. “Vladimir Horowitz once said that if Art Tatum ever took up classical music seriously, Horowitz would quit the next day.”
And humbly, here’s my own recent performance: