Gyorgy Cziffra plays LISZT = Both Piano Concertos, Totentanz, Fantasy – IDIS

by | Oct 8, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Gyorgy Cziffra plays LISZT  = Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major; Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major; Fantasy of Hungarian Folk Tunes for Piano and Orchestra; Totentanz for Piano and Orchestra – Gyorgy Cziffra, piano/ Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/ Fulvio Vernizzi (E-flat Concerto)/ Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI/ Bernhard Conz (A Major Concerto; Hungarian Fantasy)/ Orchestra del Torino la Fen ice di Venezia/ Umberto Cattini (Totentanz) – IDIS 6616, 70:02 [Distr. By Qualiton] ****:
Hungarian piano virtuoso Gyorgy Cziffra (1921-1994) still generates controversy among cognoscenti who cannot decide if his unorthodox pedagogy produced a rare genius or a flamboyant dilettante whose musicianship betrayed a gypsy element that compromised his sense of taste. These Liszt performances 1958-1960 bespeak a passionately-gifted artist thoroughly devoted to the Liszt spirit, whose emotional extremes or ecstasies can certainly tolerate risks and poetic flights of fancy.
The E-flat Concerto performance under Vernizzi (18 March 1958) has already had one incarnation on Fonit Cetra: Pianisti Celebri alla RAI (ARCD 2053) issued in 1997. Cziffra invests much lyrical poetry into the Quasi Adagio movement, a supple combination of tense drama and rhetorical bravura. The lithe trill Cziffra delivers to the accompaniment of woodwinds and triangle evolves from light flippant runs to demonic broken octaves at whim, pungently alert. Cziffra maintains a fine surface patina, as though he were demonstrating Liszt’s F Minor Etude “La Leggierezza.” The last movement assumes the heroic cast without a false (repeated) note, seamless and playfully pearly in the manner of La Campanella. The last pages singe the ear with galvanized power and uncompromising throes of Promethean fire.
The A Major Concerto under Conz (6 March 1959) luxuriates in those elongated romantic gestures Liszt took from Weber’s Konzertstueck in F Minor, to which Liszt adds his genius for “transformation of theme” in the form of a series of elastic labyrinths that exploit the piano’s colors as they mix with selected winds and strings. The recorded sound, unfortunately, keeps a distance between the keyboard and the sometimes muddied effects in the low strings, pedal horns. and tympani. Cziffra, however, throws himself headlong into the busy fray, of which the orchestral part often becomes a self-contained symphonic poem with piano obbligato or epilogue. In the dialogue with the solo cello the intimacy becomes a reverie worthy of Coleridge’s Xanadu and its incense-bearing trees. The “watery” figurations then yield to grand march in fierce Hungarian style, rife with schwung and ethnic zal. The delicacy that precedes the last pages testifies to a many-faceted colorist, a stylist who allows Liszt to reveal a modesty and economy of means that too often becomes obscured by his natural effulgence of spirit.
The same concert from Milan 6 March 1959 under Conz yields up an idiomatically suave 1853 Hungarian Fantasy whose melodic tissue and frisky filigree insinuates its way into various Hungarian Rhapsodies and concert etudes. The hortatory nature of the writing assumes epic proportions, as though Liszt were offering a new national anthem and not merely a resetting of his 14th Hungarian Rhapsody.  Cziffra’s jeu perle, having become the very instantiation of a music-box cimbalom, proceeds to dance through a maze of instruments in accompaniment, culminating in a martial ritornello of the main theme with a glistening trill as long as an anaconda. The last dance gathers a dervish momentum unto itself, the orchestra’s responding with general village festivities.
The 1849 Totentanz (6 March 1960, Venice) combines pageantry and morbid irony, with Cziffra’s solemnly intoning the plainchant Dies Irae from the Requiem Mass for a potent series of paraphrase-variations. Inspired by a fresco by Traini, Liszt’s dance assumes any number of personae, including canonic structures that resonate of the Medievalists and Bach. Cziffra demonstrates those liquid aspects of Liszt’s rhetoric that presage the water-pieces inspirational to Debussy and Ravel. That Cziffra could raise a magnetic legato beautifully complements the often diabolical staccati that permeate this modern-looking opus. The cascades, smirking arpeggios, and explosive cadences usher thunderbolts from the keyboard, and Cziffra’s tempos become hurricanes sweeping all the stations of life to their “sternest good night.” The sheer intensity of the last stretti quite consumes us all, and the ferocious col legni in the strings has Death himself laughing in unapologetic triumph.
—Gary Lemco

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