Gina Bachauer – Beethoven and Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos – Forgotten Records

by | Feb 13, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor”; RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30 – Gina Bachauer, piano/ Detroit Symphony Orchestra/ Paul Paray – Forgotten Records FR 2023 (69:05) [] ****:

This splendid CD resurrects two powerful musicians in live, radio-concert performances from Detroit, where Paul Paray (1886-1979) held the conducts post between 1952-1963. The piano soloist, Greek virtuoso Gina Bachauer (1913-1976) appears at the height of her powers, here in music (Beethoven) she served on record – in fact, both artists had contracted with Mercury Records – with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, while the Rachmaninoff Concerto will be new to collectors, unless they have the private issue of her appearance in this music in New York (8-11 November 1951) with Dimitri Mitropoulos.  

Portrait Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven,
by Hornemann

The Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto (1 February 1962) emerges in an ‘imperial” guise from the outset, with Bachauer’s initial cascades in full fury, and the opening, Allegro tutti from Paray a relentless gallop of Herculean thunder. The sheer momentum of this first movement barely finds respite. Yet, in the course of the music’s massive development, Bachauer’s capacity for guided nuance never fails to impress or astound us, her legatos and pianissimos a veritable lesson in digital control. From her studies with Cortot she gleaned degrees of touch and plastic phrasing which she now bequeaths to her rendition of Beethoven’s 1809 creation of grand design and often breathtaking beauty. That the Detroit audience withholds applause at the end of the first movement is itself testimony of a certain emotional restraint.

In full contrast to the mighty upheaval that had just passed, the second movement Adagio un poco moto emerges cautiously, with ample nuance in each of the keyboard’s parlando line, until the staccato chords from Bachauer enter the accompanied trill that urges the music forward into a variant of the opening theme. The intimacy between Bachauer and the Detroit woodwinds is a thing of refreshed vitality, impelling us ineluctably to that dropped half-step to the beginning of the Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo. Bachuaer explodes forward, setting off a chain of antiphonal variants underlined by Paray’s fierce accents, augmented by an active timpanist and horn section. Despite occasional pitch distortion, the sound enjoys a thrusting presence, alert to the marvelous instrumental symbiosis on the Detroit stage. Bachauer’s fleetness of execution simply remains jaw-dropping, whether in liquid runs or otherwise percussive block chords. But “percussive” this performance is not; at times the keyboard literally purrs with affection, then leaps with bravura figuration. The fluid command of Beethoven’s idiom resounds with such authority, the few sound imperfections virtually disappear.     

Portrait Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff, by Kubey Rembrandt Studios

The Rachmaninoff collaboration (26 November 1959) adds a major item to the discography of Paul Paray, who so far as I know, recorded only the composer’s Second Symphony commercially.  For purists, the cut version of the D Minor Concerto can only satisfy so far; but for those who savor the virtuosity and sensitivity of style innate to Bachauer and Paray will savor their own, singing opulence in the occasion, the woodwinds quite forward in this document. The reflective moments in the score, particularly as Bachauer’s dialogue with French horn and warbling winds, prove intimately convincing; one never doubts the pianist’s sincerity in the playing of her chosen repertory. Array, too, molds the phrases of the opening theme for the development section with a sculptor’s grace. Bachauer’s bass tone clearly annunciate the motto theme, building in stretti to a terrific, whirlwind propulsion, in concert with Paray. The atmospheric mist clears for Bachauer’s passionate cadenza, a plethora of runs, staccato, glissandi, trills and potently massive chordal declamations. That Bachauer can stop on the musical dime and knead the melody once more in the recapitulation adds yet another string to a plentiful harp.   

The florid second movement, Intermezzo, travers a harmonic scheme that moves from D Minor through F# Minor to D-flat and so on to D Minor, a series of variations of color and interior motion, with Bachauer’s carefully articulating the theme, solo and in tandem with Detroit’s colors. Some of the tissue has been compromised in this recording, but the flow continues, especially as Bachauer executes arabesques in B-flat Minor.

 Attacca, and we are in cut time, with a disruptive pause in the disc, to the Finale: Alla breve. Bachauer and Paray rather swoop upon the musical materials, their alternately martial and arioso, E-flat Major elements, of which the latter seem to borrow from the Second Concerto. A brief pause in the momentum, and the resumption of the crisp clarity of Bachauer’s runs and upper register fioritura proves consistently engaged and engaging. The march tempest redoubles its fury, the four-note motto having modulated to a triumphant D Major. We can sense the principals’ and audience’s tension as Bachauer and struck strings move to the coda, the audience ready to explode in consonance with a performance of elegant and elegantly molded power. Even with its few flaws, this disc remains a precious gem,

—Gary Lemco 

More information available through Forgotten Records:

Album Cover for Gina Bachauer, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff Concertos


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