Jose Iturbi – Chopin Recital – Forgotten Records

by | Oct 24, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

CHOPIN RECITAL: JOSE ITURBI = Six Waltzes; Polonaise No. 3 “Military”; Impromptu No. 1; Etudes in E Major, F Minor; 3 Mazurkas from Op. 7 – Jose Iturbi, piano – Forgotten Records FR 2066 (42:09) [] ****:

Valencia-born pianist Jose Iturbi (1896-1980) will likely suffer permanent denigration for his Hollywood connection that began in 1943 and extended to 1949. But despite his concession to popular taste, Iturbi remained a formidable musician of power and persuasion, having in 1929 given in Carnegie Hall the first complete performance of Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Etudes. As a conductor, Iturbi received offers from Los Angeles and Philadelphia, assuming the leadership of the Rochester Philharmonic 1936-1944. Iturbi had joined the RCA pantheon of distinguished pianists, recording major concertos and brief, keyboard works of an encore nature. Later, Iturbi recorded for French Columbia and EMI, of which his Mozart performances gleaned prestige, with William Kapell’s designating Iturbi’s Mozart “the evenest playing I know.” A teacher with a fierce work-ethic, Iturbi earned a reputation among his master class pupils as “the Spanish Inquisition.” In the late 1960s and into the 1970s he served as music director in Bridgeport Connecticut, Calgary, and Albequerque, even reuniting in 1976 with the Rochester Philharmonic to perform in New York’s Lincoln Center. The present disc from Forgotten Records, restoring the 1959 Columbia SAXF 105 from Paris, complements the 3-CD set from APR (7307), insofar as the Chopin items, of which only three items receive new interpretations, had been recorded 1944-1952.

The recordings from January 1959 at the Salle Wagram reveal Iturbi in robust, resonant form, easily fluent in Chopin’s first two entries from his Op. 34, Grandes Valses brillantes. Iturbi’s top, singing line maintains a coloratura capacity for embellished flourishes while his bass line remains articulate without undue heaviness. His patina tends to be percussive; he is not Horszowski. Iturbi’s trill is flawless. The E Minor Waltz has sentiment and bel canto, a sober rendition that emanates color nuance. The so-called “Minute” Waltz glides by in fleet periods, its pulsation consistent. The succeeding waltz from Op. 64 enjoys the same, spontaneous athleticism, achieving a fine velocity without distortion. The tasteful chastity in Iturbi’s Chopin may come as a surprise, again given the Hollywood penchant for gloss and exaggeration in all matters, aesthetic and dramatic. Iturbi offers the delicate Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 69/1 in its Warsaw edition, and concludes the group with the G-flat Major Waltz, Op. 70/1, a posthumous gem that revels in shifting accents, music-box sonority, and a salon, lilted sensibility.

Portrait of Chopin


The “Military” Polonaise, of course, made its way to the Hollywood bio-pic with Cornell Wilde, with the typical Technicolor trappings, but Iturbi’s solid reading may remind some auditors of Artur Rubinstein in its driven authority. The A-flat Impromptu quite sparkles under Iturbi’s fleet fingers, the middle section poised and narrative in conception. The roundness and legato in Iturbi’s arpeggios and hard trills present a lesson in themselves. Chopin’s own favorite among his etudes was the selected E Major, Op. 10/3, which this author heard first from Claudio Arrau. Iturbi delivers the work with a refined nobility, allowing its middle section an impulsive flirtation with demonic bravura, just enough to shed any illusions of Chopin’s “effeminate” style. The F Minor Etude, Op. 25/2 really should be paired with the opener of the set, a diptych, and there would have been time enough on this disc to include it. As a study in fluid pulsation in rapid figures, the piece demonstrates Iturbi’s natural stamina and thorough control of all the digital demands in this marvel.

Iturbi concludes his recital with the first three of the five mazurkas Op. 7, which he plays without any “foreign accent.”  His capacity for subito proves as dramatic as his power of Chopin’s shifting agogics, which often tempt us into thinking these Polish statements of national identity have waltz ambitions. Iturbi’s sense of color contrast always impresses, and we must recall the fine assortment of Spanish treasures he unearths in the APR set restored by Mark Obert-Thorn. The darkest of the three mazurkas, that in F Minor, Op. 7/3 (mis-labelled as B-flat Major on the credits), proffers a menace that Schumann detected when he perceived “cannons surrounded by decorous flowers.”  

—Gary Lemco 


Six Waltzes;
Polonaise No. 3 in A Major, Op. 40 “Military”;
Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat Major, Op. 29;
Etude in E Major, Op. 10/3;
Etude in F Minor, Op. 25/2;
3 Mazurkas from Op. 7 

Album Cover for Jose Iturbi Chopin Recital

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