Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Complete waltzes [46:23]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sixteen Waltzes, Op. 39 [16:35]
France Clidat (piano)
rec. 31 October-3 November 2008, Saint Marcel’s Lutheran Church, Paris
FORLANE FOR16882 [62:58]

The French pianist France Clidat (1932-2012) had a long-held desire to record this particular programme, but health worries had proved an obstacle. When she finally took on the project in 2008 it became something of a Herculean struggle. She didn’t relish the prospect of listening to the results until much later. When she finally agreed she had not long to live.

Her teachers at the Paris Conservatoire included Lazare-Lévy (1882-1964), the influential pedagogue and virtuoso pianist. She would later hone her pianistic skills with Emil Gilels. At the Budapest International Competition in September 1956 she won the Franz Liszt Prize – it was the first time it had been awarded since 1937. The author and reviewer Bernard Gavoty dubbed her ‘Madame Liszt’ after a successful concert given at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Thus, she stood alongside Monique Haas, Cécile Ousset, Robert Casadesus and Philippe Entremont as an outstanding representative of the French piano school. In addition to her concert career she taught for several years at the École Normale de Musique in Paris. Her world-wide travels took her as far as Japan, where she gave master-classes. She served on the jury of several major piano competitions, including the International Franz Liszt Competition, and was awarded a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur.

Clidat’s traversal of the Chopin Waltzes is stylish and idiomatic, each having an innate sense of rhythm. What adds to their success is the freshness, spontaneity and newly composed feel she brings to them. There’s virtuosity and panache when called for, as in Op. 34 No. 1, and scintillating fingerwork in Op. 34 No. 3 and Op. 64 No. 2 ‘Minute’. She delivers op. 70 No. 1 with sparkle and vigour yet, to Op. 70 No. 2, she brings an element of restraint and poetic insight.

Brahms’ Sixteen Waltzes, Op. 39 were completed in January 1865 and dedicated to the famous Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick. Originally written for piano four hands, the composer later released a solo version by popular demand. A second simplified solo version, with the amateur pianist in mind, testifies to the popularity of these pieces. Around the time of their composition Brahms had begun editing and arranging Schubert's Ländler. His Op. 39 clearly shows how he was influenced by his predecessor’s sequential approach.

The waltzes are smaller in scale than those by Chopin, yet they overflow with gorgeous melodies and have exceptional appeal. My favourites are No. 2 in E major, and the famous No. 15 in A flat. Clidat’s playing has elegance, charm and rhythmic flexibility. Her sensitive application of rubato, without ever resorting to sentimentality, invests these gems with a ravishing beauty. I am pleased that they have been tracked separately.

Recorded in appealing sound, this is an enjoyable release.

Stephen Greenbank
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