Clara Haskil Complete Recital Ludwigsburg 1953 = Piano Works by BACH; SCARLATTI; BEETHOVEN; SCHUMANN; DEBUSSY; RAVEL – SWR Music 

History enjoys a bit more closure in our having Clara Haskil’s complete recital from Ludwigsburg, 1953. 

Clara Haskil Complete Recital Ludwigsburg 1953 = BACH: Toccata in e minor, BWV 914; Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659; SCARLATTI: 3 Sonatas; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 32 in c minor, Op. 111; SCHUMANN: Abegg Variations, Op. 1; Bunte Blaetter, Op. 99: Nicht schnell, mit innigkeit; Sehr rasch; Frisch; Abschied from Waldszenen, Op. 82; DEBUSSY: Etudes Nos. 10 and 7; RAVEL: Sonatine in f-sharp minor – SWR Music SWR19052CD, 75:48 (2/9/18) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

The 11 April 1953 had a previous issue on the Music&Arts label (CDS-859), but it did not contain the encores by Bach and Schumann here included. Clara Haskil (1895-1960), the great Romanian pianist, combined a devotional sincerity in her playing with brilliant pearl play and litheness of touch. Though she suffered throughout her career from shyness and stage fright, she became the preferred soloist of many of the great European conductors – Rosbaud, Schuricht, Karajan, Klemperer, Fricsay, Swoboda, Ackermann, and Kletzki – she also found a warm reception in America with Munch and in Prades with Casals. Her work in chamber music, with Arthur Grumiaux, the Winterthur Quartet, Geza Anda, and Dinu Lipatti still retains strong adherents among collectors.

The opening Bach Toccata in e minor may appear to lack warmth, given its drive and objectivity, yet the reading has much in common with that by Robert Casadesus, who also subdues the passion into cool, liquid, polyphonic figures.  The Bach influence becomes less detached in the Frisch section of the Schumann Op. 99, where the facility of execution reveals a sterling motor control. The Scarlatti triptych enjoys a transparent intimacy, especially the first, the Sonata in C, K. 132, with it gentle guitar strums. The E-flat Major, K. 193 proceeds in canon and brisk runs, topped off by a shimmering trill. The lyric music-box effect charms and haunts us, at once. The b minor, K. 87 projects the kind if inwardness we associate with Schumann, whose own first selection from Bunte Blaetter assumes the wistful introspection that borders on Mendelssohn’s vocal power.

The Beethoven Op. 111 long remained a Haskil specialty; here, in the midst of her program, the massive work seems to extend rather than conclude a progression into refined Romanticism. The performance has its finger-slips and rhythmic disjunctions, but the tenor of the performance remains fixed and logically driven without having sacrificed the exalted tension of the work. She rather takes the sonata in one massive gulp, the maestoso elements significantly weighted, then matched by startling, hectic propulsion and aerial velocity.  The Arietta and its labyrinthine evolution assumes a highly personal and fluid reading, again subsumed to a pre-determined vision of its transcendent purpose.

The Schumann F Major Variations, Op. 1 “Abegg” (1830) represent, along with the two Debussy Etudes – Pour le sonorities opposees and Pour le degres chromatique – and the Ravel last movement, the virtuoso components of the recital.  The Schumann divides into four, fleet sections: Tema, three Variations, Cantabile and Vivace: Finale alla Fantasia. By virtue of juxtaposition, the first of the Debussy etudes sounds “modern,” indeed, only a step away from German atonalism.  The middle section of No. 10 does humanize itself in the dance hall, however fleetingly. Elusive balls and bits of Golliwog dance by. Liquid scales and “fireworks” ostinati permeate No. 7, a true extension of those polyrhythmic moments in Chopin, or better, Godowsky. Originally, a competition piece for a local music journal, Ravel’s Sonatine (1904) is cast in three movements, the first of which conforms to sonata-form, in f-sharp minor, D Major and b minor. The charming, chant-like Menuet in D-flat Major, enjoys a pearly, carillon effect that could pass for a Lipatti rendition.  Marked Anime, the last movement flashes an incandescent toccata  at us rife with bird calls in 3/4 as well as dancing waters in 5/4.

The two encores might incur “religious” overtones, especially given Haskil’s great affection for her belated colleague Dinu Lipatti (d. 1950). The Busoni transcription of the chorale-prelude retains the organ sonority in the chromatic bass line while the upper voice sings ardently.  “Abschied” constitutes No. 9 from the Forest Scenes, which some might recall lay on Dorian Gray’s keyboard before Sir Harry converted Dorian to the joys of artificial life.

—Gary Lemco

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