CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No.  1 in E Minor, Op. 11; Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58 – Dinu Lipatti, p./ Tonhalle Orch. Zurich/ Otto Ackermann – Pristine Audio PASC 406, 61:48 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical. com] ****:

The Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950) retains a cult status among piano cognoscenti, a tragically short-lived artist – he died of leukemia – whose official recorded legacy constitutes some four hours of music. Lipatti enjoyed his repute as an amazing soloist, whose individual fingers were so strong that he could color chords within the same hand, producing the effect of independent lines of music sounded by different instruments. Early in his career, Lipatti participated in a piano trio, assisted by two other instrumental legends, Ginette Neveu, violin and Antoni Janigro, cello. So far, no records exist of that ensemble. Lipatti’s interpretive aesthetic respected the past, but only to the point of loving old scores, not trying to resurrect them in a dead, moribund tradition.  “Music is the present,” quoth Stravinsky, and Lipatti confirmed his approach. “Music has to live under our fingers,” wrote Lipatti, and his ability to simplify and synthesize the many influences of any score provided his hands a direct means of expression utterly faithful to any composer’s spirit.

Pristine’s editor and engineer Andrew Rose revives two major Chopin moments, the EMI studio inscription of the B Minor Sonata (1 & 4 March 1947) and the live Concerto No. 1 in E Minor (7 February 1950) with conductor Otto Ackermann, a performance long delayed in receiving its proper medium by its having been confused with another performance by Halina Czerny-Stefanska. The Romanian conductor Otto Ackermann (1909-1960) leads the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, an orchestra leader who became associated with the music of Richard Strauss on records.

The opening movement (with an abridged tutti), now in more than acceptable sound and correct pitch, begins with a slow, broad  tempo (maestoso) that certainly heightens Lipatti’s etched parlandi and contoured phrases. The fast passages achieve a volatility and pointed phraseology that never slackens, urging the orchestra to keep up. The fioritura, the rapid embellishments and left hand harmonies, move with such athletic aggression that we forget how much control Lipatti exerts over each period. Ackermann responds with vivid fortes and deep-throated bass harmonies, over which Lipatti weaves a diaphanous cantilena when the music moves into Chopin’s idiosyncratic bel canto. The solo playing prior to the first movement coda achieves an iridescent pearly play, the poet in as much evidence as the virtuoso. Again, the coda itself evinces a marcato character, comparatively restrained in character.

Chopin felt more at ease in his later concerto movements, unconstrained by classical conventions of a sonata-form he found ungainly. The Romanze: Larghetto lavishes upon us a melody of infinite embroidery, which Lipatti realizes – he has only 12 bars tacet – with limpid finesse. Ackermann provides a dreamy muted-string gauze with which to cushion the piano’s runs and quicksilver arpeggios that progress via Lipatti to a noble expression of nostalgia and lyric tenderness. The Rondo: Vivace proffers a Polish krakowiak in duple time, accented by jarring syncopes. Lipatti renders a seamless dance whose lightness and freshness lift the spirit of the music into a frolic, often more passionate than not. The national colors, particularly lighted by the orchestra trumpets, achieve a scintillating energy, a virtually jazzy flow that Gershwin may have envied.  Stylish, elegant, lyrically poised, the Concerto has become an accompanied monologue serving as a testament to the aristocratic Polish spirit and to its esteemed acolyte, Lipatti.

The Chopin B Minor Sonata by Lipatti has already achieved stellar status, having been included on EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century” series.  Andrew Rose’s clarion restoration indicates afresh how lucid, how refined and pointed, Lipatti’s phrasing remains through all of the opening Allegro maestoso’s wistful affections. The verve and essential brio of Lipatti’s free approach never abandons the wonderful intimacy of expression he maintains, a real communion with the composer. The spirit of Bach permeates the rhetorical gestures, a sense that the embellishments contribute only an ineluctable organic unity to the effect. And what a legato this man possesses!  Glistening movement and mercurial counterpoint mark Lipatti’s E-flat Scherzo.  The most difficult movement within which to maintain tension, the Largo, Lipatti lights up, its B Major nocturne another of Chopin’s transpositions of the Bellini bel canto ethos to the instrumental medium. Lipatti’s serene performance of the Largo absorbs exactly the same playing time as his first movement. The grand Finale: Presto exploits the harmonic minor scale in the midst of a relentless gallop that gravitates between B Minor and a modal B Major. Nothing less than potent virility defines this Lipatti interpretation, a firestorm of fateful poetry and eagles’ wings. The effect is colossal, voluptuous, epic, and fiercely personal, a fine tribute to a sublime artist.

—Gary Lemco