After 200 Years, Chopin's Music Still Holds Mysteries
Published: Saturday, February 20, 2010
Updated: Saturday, February 20, 2010 21:02
Listening to all the waltzes at one go is like eating a box of chocolates, leaving you feeling ever so slightly bilious; yet each of these recordings has its strengths. Fliter has a gorgeous, light, easy touch that appeals to me instinctively, but she gets a little carried away with the rubato, tugging at and prodding every phrase. Ott, too, sometimes sounds willful, but she has a wholesome directness. With a big sound that feels reined in, she embodies, in the Grande Valse Brillante in E-flat, the slightly coltish exuberance of a young girl at her first dance. In comparison, French pianist Alexandre Tharaud, who recorded the waltzes a few years ago, offers a drier, cooler approach: The playing is admirably clean and slightly distant, and very much a tonic after too much emoting.
The waltzes epitomize one of the hardest things about playing Chopin: walking the fine line between emotion and sentiment, between feeling something and looking back, fondly, on the way it felt. Chopin presages Ravel's "La Valse" in his expression of slightly ironic nostalgia. The dance forms Chopin used had particular connotations; his works were a kind of social commentary. Today, the nostalgia threatens to trump everything. One big secret of playing Chopin may simply be to remember that it's not as pretty as it sounds.