Archipel ARPCD 0336, 57:23 (Distrib. Qualiton) ***:
Recordings of mixed sonic quality mark this restoration of performances 1950-1955 from Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000), in which the fiery performance of the Weber Konzerstueck has already appeared on CD through the Philips series “Great Pianists of the 20th Century.” The Beethoven A Major Sonata (1950) was taped in London and forms a part what was to become Gulda’s survey of the Beethoven sonata cycle. Photos of Gulda at the time have him resembling actor Vittorio Gassman. The playing of the A Major is solid and forthright, perhaps somewhat brittle in the upper registers; but the realization balances Beethoven’s lyricism with the urge to laconic polyphony. The syncopations of the Vivace alla Marcia emerge deftly; the transition from the Adagio to the aggressive final Allegro is graduated smoothly.
Even more convenient is having the Eroica Variations edited as one continuous cut, although the Geneva 1951 tape emits hiss and crackle. The conception of the Variations is bold and declamatory throughout, from bass ostinato statement to the flying fugue. The little contradanse endures all kinds of transmutation, including some passing harmonies which anticipate several schools of modernism. In his German, revisionist approach, often spare of pedal, Gulda takes the granite efforts of Claudio Arrau one step further. The 1955 Konzerstueck has plenty of fioritura and bravura; I have relished performances of its wayward emotional canvas since I owned old shellacs with Casadesus and Eugene Bigot. Running a bit short and recycling a good third of its content, I can recommend this disc mainly to Gulda collectors or to curious lovers of keyboard virtuosity.