Very lovely yet quite insipid, French pianist Alexendre Tharaud is a good not great pianist performing great not good repertoire: Chopin's Waltzes, the most ephemeral and evanescent of the composer's miniatures. Although relatively infrequently recorded in the later years of the 20th and the early years of the 21st century, Tharaud's 2006 recording of the Waltzes for Harmonia Mundi closely followed Stephen Kovacevich's 2005 recording for EMI. Unfortunately for Tharaud, comparison is inevitable and unfavorable. Not that Tharaud is a poor player. He has the technique, the tone, the sensitivity and the style to pull off the Waltzes. His phrasing is effective, his rhythm is lilting, his tempos are tasteful and his touch is velvet. But Tharaud is also sometimes a tad too wan, a bit too fey, a little too cloying and a shade to brown. Chopin's Waltzes are less sentimental and more robust, less withdrawn and more poetic than he interprets them. They are, in fact, far more as Kovacevich interprets them with a more refined technique and a profounder understanding. Too many times Tharaud seems above and outside the music while Kovacevich seems deep into it, balancing passion with reserve, joy with sorrow, heart with soul and brilliance with melancholy. For the greatest recording of the Waltzes ever made, try Dinu Lipatti's superlatively musical, supremely spiritual recording. For a recent digital recording, try the Kovacevich. Tharaud, for all his virtues, is not in their league.
Harmonia Mundi's sound is close and detailed but still evocative.