HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 59 in E-flat Major; Piano Sonata No. 33 in C Minor; BRAHMS: Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119; SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 – Rudolf Firkusny, piano – BBC Legends

by | Mar 22, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 59 in E-flat Major; Piano Sonata No. 33 in C Minor; BRAHMS: Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119; SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 – Rudolf Firkusny, piano

BBC Legends BBCL 4173-2,  79:01 (Distrib. Koch) ****:

Taped at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, this 4 January 1969 recital captures the art of Czech pianist Rudolf Firkusny (1912-1984) in otherwise unrecorded repertory – of which the brilliant, plastic lines of the two Haydn sonatas are particularly welcome.  While he did not record commercially an extensive legacy in Mozart, there are several concerto inscriptions with Ernest Bour, and the airways enjoyed some collaborations with Zdenek Macal. Of Haydn there has been no note, so to hear the sunny architecture in the E-flat Sonata unfold, likely tempered by Schnabel’s mentorship, is an aural delight. Firkusny makes us recall the strong Austro-Hungarian strain in Haydn’s pedigree. The limpid Tempo di Minuet, with its unmannered music box sonority, easily justifies the price of admission to Firkusny’s rarified world.  The C Minor Sonata no less displays Firkusny’s pearly play, but its ethos is darker, the lyricism more akin to Mozart’s introspective fantasies. The Andante con moto communicates nervous delicacy.  The last movement seems conceived for a two-manual harpsichord, demanding a series of unbroken ornaments and rolling arpeggios from Firkusny, rendered with aplomb.

While Firkusny did record some Brahms for EMI, his group did not include an integral Op. 119, and the opening B Minor Intermezzo has a special, pre-Schoenbergian espressivity. The E Minor Intermezzo luxuriates in pre-Debussy harmonic nebulae, cross fertilized by emotional, syncopated anguish, the throes of the composer’s “old bachelor” sensibility.  If Firkusny treats the elusive C Major Intermezzo as a blithe color pastiche, the E-flat Rhapsody harkens to Chopin in its four-square intimations of a Ballade. The last page gathers speed and evokes a bust of granite heroism. Those who recall Firkusny’s LP survey of the Schubert Impromptus for CBS (ML 4527, unreissued), know of his lyrical fluency and innate sympathy for this composer. Eschewing repeats, Firkusny makes the first movement a rocking discourse between light and shadow, with little of the morbidity some slower accounts foster on this grand score. Perhaps the leggierezza and Bach-like application of even pulses will prove too naïve for some tastes. The otherwise convulsive bass trill becomes a passing cloud which resolves itself into a dew. 

The colossal poise and repose of the performance extends into the Andante sustention, an Apollinian song with a hint of habanera rhythm. The melos unfolds in the manner of an Aeolian harp. The softest of pianissimi usher in the Scherzo, which now could be an elfin dance from Mendelssohn or a rivulet from the Moldau.  The middle section reveals some emotional turbulence, only to return to charming cascades of the opening. An immediate thrust into the Allegro, here the recipient of the long line and the light hand. Firkusny is not particularly faithful to the “ma non troppo” restraint Schubert places on his emotions, and the second subject might have a touch of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata.  The smooth sonic architecture, the unbroken grasp of Schubert’s broad canvas resumes, exquisitely delicately, the passions subsumed within the tenderest virtuosity.  The disc bears the inscription: In Memoriam, Tatiana Firkusny, 8 January 1945-11 January 2005.

— Gary Lemco

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