mardi 16 février 2010

Bad conscience of a critic

I really wanted to do a positive report on Alexandre Tharaud's Geneva concert. He is an excellent pianist full of originality which I have often enjoyed in the past. His first half entirely devoted to Scarlatti was great but the Chopin left me somewhat puzzled and I could not in all honesty be as upbeat as I really wanted to.(My comments however were high praise compared to my colleague Sebastien Foucart at Barenboim's Chopin recital.)

There is a passage in the carnets of Roland Barthes about Chopin that probably explains what happened: I do not remember the exact words that Barthes used but his comment is that he had troubled enjoying Rubinstein in Chopin because his rubato was different than the one he himself used when playing.

Maybe what this is implied here is that for Chopin more than any other composer, we know some works so well via recordings that any changes are going to be making us feeling uneasy. I grew listening to Rubinstein and Pollini whose style could be described as more objective and coherent than other performers, Horowitz coming to mind for one. Because of this, every diversion and change of pulse is going to jump to our face as the "rubato different from the one we are used to ..."

(Since I am speaking of Rubinstein, I have to tell a personal story. When I was a kid, Rubinstein could often be spotted at concerts of the likes of Barenboim, Pollini, Ashkenazy, ... I remember seeing for the first time at a Barenboim Beethoven Chopin Piano recital in January 1976 where I was amazed as much by his presence as by the Waldstein Sonata which I was hearing for the first time ...

I must have been 14 and remember once crossing someone asking myself if this guy knew how much he looked like Rubinstein until 5 minutes after, I realised that I had walked past my idol and called me all sorts of names ...

He lived actually not far. I started going to school with the cover of the record of Chopin's first concerto in my bag to ask for an autograph just in case. Needless to say, I never walked past him although my grandmother did and came back praising how approachable and charming he was ...

Whenever I hear a record of him playing, I still marvel at the cantabile, the naturalness of tempi, ..., and his unobtrusive runbato)

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