Brilliant by way of understatement: Alexandre Tharaud’s latest disc, Chopin’s 19 waltzes, is another subtle – yet glaringly successful – stepping stone in what seems to be the inevitably stellar career of one of the most tasteful, confident, and well-rounded young pianists of our time. It comes on the heels of his Bach recital, Concertos Italiens, for which no other word than “sensational” will suffice.
Although “sensational” would be a very misleading description of the Chopin recording, Tharaud has once again produced something very special: a gem, but with an inward glow. Tharaud’s Chopin is understatement pregnant with personality owing to a decisiveness that becomes manifest in character, not beauty. He ends the recital with a personal signature: Frédéric Mompou’s Valse-Évocation (Variations on a theme by Chopin) round a gorgeous hour off with melancholic wit.
I suspect the whole disc could flow by the listener unnoticed if played as background music (for shame). But it is more likely to make his or her ears perk, raise an eyebrow, induce an unnoticed smile – perhaps like when strolling about absentmindedly on a breezy day and observing little kids absorbed in some silly game. Or being oddly enchanted by a ladybug struggling up a tulip cup. This is the nature of a wonderful recording as opposed to a “very good” recording: We react to it with emotions, not awe; we associate a mood with it, not specifics like tempo or timing or pedaling. It’s right; it resists comparison. On paper this might sound like a cop-out for a critic too lazy to dig out Rubinstein or Ashkenazy. It isn’t. Comparing details would indeed be the ‘safer’ route to go than flat out declare: if you don’t deny Lipatti shelf space, you can’t deny the 3/8” to Tharaud, either.