DELIUS: Piano Concerto in C Minor; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491; BEETHOVEN: Fantasia in C Minor for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 80 – Clifford Curzon, piano/ BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Sir John Pritchard (Delius)/ London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink

BBC Legends  BBCL 4181-2,  77:32 (Distrib. Koch) ****:

A marvelous collation from BBC archives, here celebrating the eminent piano virtuoso Clifford Curzon (1907-1982), one of the great pupils of both Artur Schnabel and Wanda Landowska. There are two rarities to be gleaned on this superb disc: first, the 3 September 1981 collaboration with John Pritchard in the C Minor Concerto by Frederick Delius (1906), a piece championed by Benno Moiseiwitsch for its staid romanticism and teasing incursions into Debussy. Cast in one continuous, fantasia-like movement, the Delius allows Curzon to realize a number of contrasting moods and sonorities, much of which recalls Grieg and points to Hollywood syrup. Pritchard certainly provides “the full treatment” of orchestral support, the horns and strings swelling in the climax of the Allegro non troppo, ushering intimations of tympani-bred heroism for the Tempo primo finale. The epithet “delectable brilliance” has been used to portray Curzon’s especial sound, whose crisp articulation denoted the very essence of Mozart’s style. As applied to Delius, Curzon’s playing imbues the piece with a dignity and tender lilt it might otherwise lack. The audience explodes with approbation.

The musical surprise on this album comes in the form of Beethoven’s fascinating Choral Fantasy (28 January 1970) under Haitink, where Curzon can move from musicbox delicacy to thunderous block chords and glittering arpeggios underlying tunes which adumbrate moments in the Ninth Symphony. The transparency of the chorus, the elegant blending of flute, winds, strings, and the piano’s diverse colors all testify to a happy collaborative effort, mounted with glowing affection. Mozart’s C Minor Concerto (6 November 1979), also with Bernard Haitink at the helm, makes an excellent addition to a 22 December 1972 B-flat Major Concerto, K. 595, preserved on the large disc set (97014). Haitink consistently required two rehearsals for collaborations in Mozart, and Curzon delivers a crystalline, pearly keyboard part complemented by sterling work in the LPO woodwinds and horns. The martial impulse which permeates the opening movement finds a tragic delicacy in the answering phrases and the grace of Curzon’s trills. The Larghetto exposes Mozart’s personal anguish even as it refines it into something redemptive. The natural simplicity of the phrases, the intimacy of projection, then their working out in woodwind counterpoint with piano, remain ineffable. A stern inexorability marks the Allegretto, which becomes an intricately varied dirge in autumnal colors. Apollinian grace and tragic wisdom mesh with a sure hand; uncompromising, sad beauty. A real jewel, this disc.

— Gary Lemco