Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Chopin in the Times

On May 27, the NY Times published a big spread called 1 Composer, 2 Centuries, Many Picks. This was a compendium of the Times music critics' picks of favorite or recommended Chopin recordings, since this is the bicentenary of Chopin's birth. Here are the pianists whose recordings the critics chose:
  • Tommasini: Rubinstein, Horowitz, Zimerman, Perahia, Lipatti
  • Kozinn: Tharau, Ax, Bolet, Li, Ashkenazy
  • Smith: Rubinstein, Moravec, Argerich, Tharaud, Anderszewski
  • Schweitzer: Pollini, Fliter, Argerich, Kissin, Pires
No sign of Oesterreich, no idea of why.

Here's what interests me, which nearly led to a letter to the Times. The Times reviewers missed the earliest generation of pianists on record completely, and focussed almost entirely on pianists who lived and recorded after World War II. Rubenstein (b. 1887) and Horowitz (b. 1902) are the oldest of the pianists mentioned. It's true that Bolet is a player cut from Romantic cloth, and I'd love to hear the Ax recording Kozinn cites, because Ax plays a model of a mid-19th c. Erard piano.

But look at some of the pianists who were omitted, all worth hearing in Chopin, many of them legendary: Paderewski, de Pachmann, Friedman, Rosenthal, Hoffman, Koczalski, Tiegerman, Rachmaninov, Cortot, Lhevinne, Hambourg, Moiseiwitsch. Of pianists who concertized well into the stereo era, I'm surprised at the omission of Arrau and especially the wonderful Cherkassky.

So what's going on here? Were there criteria set, such as "can't be perceived to be obscure" or "readily available" or "in stereo or good mono" (that is, LP era or later) or "plays in a modern style"? Because I don't believe that the Times reviewers just haven't heard or just don't like all of these great pianists.

Of course, Tommasini makes a disparging remark about "expressive rubato and Romantic liberties" in Chopin and recommends late Rubinstein recordings. Buh? I'm under the impression that Rubinstein's pre-war Chopin is widely considered better than the post-war recordings. And from my perspective: bring on the rubato!


Joe Barron said...

One does learn, after a while, not to take Times critics too seriously.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I just worry about people who haven't yet learned that.