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Episode 95: Great Chopinists: Dinu Lipatti

Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 3; Waltz No. 14 in E minor, Op. posth.

rc-lipatti-200“He strokes the keyboard with such delicacy, finesse, and, where required, unobtrusive strength that the music simply seems to play itself.” - David Hurwitz

Dinu Lipatti was one of the most accomplished – and shortest-lived – of all great Chopinists.

His story must start at the end: September 16th, 1950. The Roumanian pianist, just 33 years old, is terminally ill with leukemia. So sick that he can barely walk onstage. Yet against doctor’s orders, he insists on one last recital – at a festival in Bescançon, France. As his widow, Madeline Lipatti recalled, it was the only way he could say goodbye: "For him, a concert was a pledge of his love to Music."

In the first half: a Bach partita, a Mozart sonata, and a couple of Schubert impromptus. The second half: all of Chopin’s then-known waltzes.

The audience was at the edge of its seat. This was the pianist, who after all, had been the apple of the French musical aristocracy’s eye. Student of pianist Alfred Cortot, conductor Charles Munch, composer Paul Dukas, and finally teacher Nadia Boulanger. A prodigy practically from birth in his native Bucharest. As critic Peter Gutmann writes, “Despite his youth, Lipatti poured into his performance a unique wisdom, a distillation of everything he had lived for. He knew that this would have to stand as his final statement as an artist and that there could be no afterthoughts or retakes.”

“The only hint of trouble,” Gutmann continues, “and a very subtle one at that, is that Lipatti played only thirteen of Chopin's set of fourteen waltzes; realizing that he lacked the strength, he did not even attempt the last one but instead ended the concert and his artistic life with a short and soft Bach chorale, the final prayer of a consummate musician.”

For all the superlatives heaped on Dinu Lipatti’s last recital, there are even more for his final studio recording of Chopin’s waltzes. Recorded in the same year of 1950– and never out of print in the ensuing sixty years.

What sets Lipatti’s recordings apart? Perhaps Lipatti’s own tragic life – of surpassing talent betrayed by a frail body - most perfectly mirrored the melancholy that Chopin expressed in his waltzes: “The terrifying and exhilarating coexistence of darkness and light in these ostensibly innocent pieces” Dinu Lipatti: a great - and tragic - Chopinist. - Benjamin K. Roe

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Radio Chopin Episode 95: Great Chopinists: Dinu Lipatti

Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 3

Waltz No. 14 in E minor, Op. posth.

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