BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1; GRIEG: Piano Concerto – Clifford Curzon, piano/ Concertgebouw/ Eduard van Beinum/ London Symphony Orch./ Anatole Fistoulari (Grieg) – Pristine

by | Dec 22, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15; GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16 – Clifford Curzon, piano/ Concertgebouw Orch. of Amsterdam. Eduard van Beinum/ London Symphony Orch./ Anatole Fistoulari (Grieg) – Pristine Audio PASC 312, 77:45 [available in various formats from] ****:
Clifford Curzon (1907-1982) set an authoritative standard for pianism, both in the concert hall and in his selectively few recordings, the mechanics of which he frankly loathed. Like his mentor Artur Schnabel, Curzon took a fastidious approach to the scores he favored, especially those of Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, and Beethoven, though he left us no record of a Mozart sonata. Of the two concertos presented here by Pristine, in excellent restored sound via Andrew Rose and his XR process, the Brahms with Eduard van Beinum (19 May -1 June 1953) achieves sumptuously striking resonance, especially in the COA string and horn attacks. The tonal warmth and color vibrancy of the interchanges between Curzon and the string and wind sections provides the otherwise colossal emotions, often a “concerted” reaction to the Beethoven Ninth Symphony, an intimate sensibility of improvised chamber music. For those who collect the recorded legacy of Eduard van Beinum (1901-1959), the Brahms will fill out a discography that includes intelligent, driven performances of the symphonies and assorted orchestral pieces.
A thoroughly heaven-storming Maestoso first movement cedes the dramatic stage to the dirge-like figures of the Adagio, surely an instrumental requiem for Robert Schumann and the composer’s own mother. The natural breathed phrasing from the strings and woods of the COA set the lachrymose tone for Curzon’s entry, calmly restrained as it is, underlined by low strings and horns.  The progression of half steps, staggered, suddenly achieves a series of arpeggios, and the winds and strings sail upward to a brief apotheosis, Curzon’s keyboard providing an epilogue and undercurrent for the wind and low string serenade that follows. The sadly sweeping gestures that follow dissipate, leaving Curzon to muse on the what he himself called “music as the consolation for living.” The Rondo moves with titanic verve, eschewing delicacy as such for expansive, bravura firepower. Even so, Curzon’s clarity of detail never falters, and he and Beinum infuse a nervous rapture that conveys innate dignity of purpose.
The Decca inscription of the Grieg Concerto (rec. Kingsway Hall, 15-16 October 1951) presented a more daunting challenge for Andrew Rose to restore to resonant sound and stable pitch. Having thus accounted and compensated for the technical difficulties, Pristine gives us a striking performance of a most-familiar concert staple, certainly a strong competitor for that by Curzon’s esteemed countryman, Solomon Cutner. Curzon carries both the dramatic and dance-like elements of the first movement forward with éclat and studied phrasing, with Fistoulari’s clear invocation of Scandinavian idylls in the orchestral tissue. What we note consistently are Curzon’s classical molded lines, each long felicitous phrase balanced against the last, a perpetual dialogue.
There always hovers a “zen” ethos around the Grieg Adagio to this concerto: the effect of sound emanating from an infinity of space, akin to a Japanese brush painting. Though I do not rank Anatole Fistoulari among the great conductor “colorists,” his pacing and guided nuance for this movement’s extended orchestral introduction prove exemplary. Here, Curzon and Fistoulari seem reluctant to relinquish Grieg’s staggered figures, those assemblages and pastiches of sound that eventually gain in flight and power to achieve a full-chord statement of the theme.
Canny ensemble marks the last movement, another opportunity for Curzon to demonstrate both his pearly play and seamless bravura articulation of the long phrase. The gorgeous middle section, a pantheistic hymn to Nature and Norway, never fails to remind me the film Windjammer, in which a young pianist performed this same concerto on board a yacht among fjords while the orchestral part came in, superimposed on his upright keyboard. Verve and wit mark the recapitulation and final pages of the A Minor Concerto, here restored in color tones to which an audiophile may return with vigorous enthusiasm.
—Gary Lemco

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