Chopin Piano Concertos – Hans Rosbaud – SWR Classic

by | Aug 22, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21 – Nikita Magaloff, piano (Op. 21)/ Hans Richter-Haaser, piano (Op. 11)/ Sudwestfunk-Orchester Baden-Baden/ Hans Rosbaud – SWR Classic SWR1907CD, 68:46 (3/23/19) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Another in the expanding, recorded catalogue of German maestro Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962), whose breadth of repertory went under-represented for decades, this all Chopin disc illuminates his capacities for sensitive collaboration in the essential keyboard medium. The two Chopin piano concertos, despite their relative paucity for grand orchestral declamations, still receive from Rosbaud and his singularly trained Baden-Baden ensemble, both delicacy and dramatic girth in the course of their response to the two gifted soloists. 

For the 10 October 1951 performance of the 1829 (rev. 1836) Chopin Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Rosbaud has the talent of Russian-born Nikita Magaloff (1912-1992), who taught for many years at the Geneva Academy. In full knowledge that the Concerto represents an extended love-letter to young singer Konstancja Gladkowska, Magaloff and Rosbaud exert grand care to those passages in the opening Maestoso movement that seem lifted directly from Bellini arioso style and bel canto. Magaloff’s fluid rubato and poised sense of color nuance proves ideal; while, in the more aggressive tuttis from Rosbaud, his brass section impels us with intensely biting attacks. Of course, the heart of the Concerto lies in the exquisite Larghetto, which Magaloff sets off in a long, florid line, a nocturne of extraordinary beauty over hushed strings. The coloratura elements dominate in every measure; and the middle section, with its marked, recitativo drama and tremolo strings, seems a dark onrush of passion too long restrained. Chopin himself stated the tragic aspect of love, “Perhaps to my misfortune, I have met my ideal. . .” 

Portrait of Chopin


The finale, Allegro vivace, has Magaloff’s energetically establishing a brilliant mazurka, suavely accompanied by the Baden-Baden strings and winds. The sweet transition to A-flat, with col legno strings, moves smoothly as ornamental glass, transparent and inflected with subtle variants that never lose Rosbaud’s velvet hand. The moments of gentle interplay, which slide agogically in acrobatic colors, illuminate a resolute course of ariettas that culminate in a well earned F Major. 

The performance of the E Minor Concerto, Op. 11 (28 April 1961) features pianist Hans Richter-Haaser (1912-1980), known for his espousal of Beethoven and the Romantic keyboard repertory, Brahms and Schumann, but not so much Chopin. Happily, Rosbaud and Richter-Haaser opt for the extended version of the opening movement Allegro maestoso’s orchestral tutti, providing the E Minor and E Major, here in vigorous energies, with emphases on the brass and tympani interaction with the winds and strings. Richter-Haaser enters first in the minor and then the parallel major, a strategy Sir Donald Tovey once pronounced as “a suicidal path.” So much for critical prophecy. The evolution of the themes by Chopin avoids sonata-form per se for a decorative elaboration that flutters in linked, arpeggiated progressions and rhapsodizes in bel canto style. Those who know Richter-Haaser from his resolute approach to Brahms will find transparent joy in his realization of Chopin’s poetic tropes. The orchestral bursts of energy resonate with stern, dramatic force. When the orchestra moves to the recapitulation, Richter-Haaser luxuriates in the secondary motif, now cast in a glowing G Major of piercing intimacy. Curiously, Chopin provides no cadenza as such, but lets the coloratura runs and lyric meditations – assisted by hushed or pizzicato strings and an occasional woodwind – suffice as virtuoso testimony to the lyric bravura that permeates this opus.

Chopin in 1830 wrote to his friend Titus Woyciechowski “the Adagio of my new concerto is in E major. It is not meant to create a powerful effect: it is rather a Romance, calm and melancholy giving the impression of someone looking gently towards a spot which calls to mind a thousand happy memories. It is a kind of reverie in the moonlight on a beautiful spring evening.” Richter-Haaser gently plies this exultant nocturne with minimal intrusion of “personality.” The additional ornaments and touches of rubato flow without mannerism. The orchestral tissue, equally transparent, proves a gossamer bower for Chopin’s long-spun arias. The music-box effect in the keyboard and subsequent scalar evocations prior to the coda linger in the memory as do magical dawns and sunsets from Nature. The Rondo: vivace, a lively Krakowiak, maintains a sturdy lightness and litheness, at once. Richter-Haaser now has ample scope for some barnstorming virtuosity in runs, scales, and metric variation that embrace the full diapason of the Romantic keyboard. We savor the (Italianate) pleasure soloist and orchestra derive from the colorful tugs of war in tempos and the abundance of textural combinations. The recorded document remains a testimonial to the unbuttoned enthusiasm two fine musicians achieve when their efforts have been synchronized in perfect harmony.

—Gary Lemco

Chopin Piano Concertos by Rosbaud, Album Cover

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