Great Pianists Volume 2 = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488; LISZT: Don Juan Fantasy (two performances); R. STRAUSS: Burleske in D Minor – Alexander Brailowsky, piano/Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky (Mozart)/Shura Cherkassky, piano (Liszt)/Rudolf Serkin, piano/New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos (Strauss) – Guild GHCD 2367, 77:18 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Guild assembles four performances–with three pianists of distinct temperaments–recorded live between 1945 (Brailowsky) and 1958 (Serkin), each devoted to mainstream repertory. The appearance Alexander Brailowsky (1896-1976) in Boston with Serge Koussevitzky in the Mozart Concerto No. 23 (26 June 1945) comes as a major addition to both artists’ discographies and displays both performers’ mutual love of Mozart, a composer Koussevitzky recorded relatively prolifically. Brailowsky himself has endured with mixed appreciation for his musical gifts, which included a pearly tone and smooth surface patina, not always inclined to intellectual profundity. The spirited momentum of the sunny A Major Concerto Koussevitzky establishes immediately, and Brailowsky engages us with warm crisp runs and pointed phrasing. The truncated first movement cadenza proves quite romantic in affect, a display of runs and trills in tandem that that hurriedly moves to the orchestral tutti. The crux of the concerto, its F-sharp Minor Andante, offers Koussevitzky to apply his own lush magic and BSO string tone, on which he prided himself. The delicacy of color exchange becomes enticing and lyrical at once, the perfect vehicle for Brailowsky’s effervescent touch. The rather breathless Presto still manages a playful songfulness and debonair Mozart style that appeals to our love of liquid sound and undeniable virtuosity on the part of all participants.
The often-paired Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991) and Dimitri Mitropoulos–both in Minneapolis and in New York–often led to electric and startlingly exciting music-making of a high order. The 1886 D Minor Burleske of Strauss (9 February 1958)–which Serkin recorded commercially with Ormandy in Philadelphia–provides a kind of demonic excursion in one movement set off by tympanic beats and a pulsation indebted to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Alternately convulsive and wistful in the manner of a Brahms waltz, the music twists and turns with volcanic fury, courtesy of the Serkin-Mitropoulos alchemy. The work’s natural percussive histrionics appeal to Serkin’s strong suits of a steely tone and blazing intensity. Serkin in an Atlanta interview recalled to me that he and Mitropoulos, having just performed Reger’s F Minor Concerto, had to repeat the last movement as an encore. And Mitropoulos always retained great sympathy for the music of Richard Strauss, including having programmed Death and Transfiguration with the NY Philharmonic in memoriam of Guido Cantelli.
Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) remains a kind of Cheshire Cat in music, a curiously naïve artist who commanded an extraordinary repertory and range of digital colors. His great ability lay in making familiar music assume new contours and interior tones, often with startling depth. He offers two different renditions of Liszt’s punishing Don Juan Fantasy (7 February 1952 and 5 March 1953) that differ in timing by just over 20 seconds. The stentorian opening section–the Commandatore’s D Minor invocations to Don Giovanni’s perdition–soon yield to the extended La ci darem la mano variations in which Cherkassky finds rhythmic and dynamic wiggle room in both interpretations. Cherkassky’s interior work, the play of contrapuntal motives in legato and broken figurations, quite testifies to an imposing technical arsenal. The passionate transition to the Champagne Cherkassky takes marcato e staccato, unleashing finally a torrent of drunken frenzy, the Don’s blasphemous sensuality. This is a Liszt rhapsody after all, not “just” Mozart, and the combination by Cherkassky blisters and massages in a combustible miracle of sound.
Another historic recording from Pristine