LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 2; BRAHMS: Sym. No. 1 – Aldo Ciccolini, piano/ Orch. de la Suisse Romande /Ferenc Fricsay – Cascavelle

by | Jun 3, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68 – Aldo Ciccolini, piano/Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ferenc Fricsay – Cascavelle VEL 3152, 61:21 [Distr. By Albany] *****:

From Victoria Hall, Geneva, we have here the lion’s share of the concert of 8 February 1956, featuring Italian-French piano virtuoso Aldo Ciccolini (b. 1925) collaborating with Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963) in the Liszt A Major Concerto. Fricsay then proceeds to lead a deeply felt Brahms C Minor Symphony, which like the Liszt, brings an entirely new addition to an already substantial recorded legacy. I mention, parenthetically, that in an interview I had with Tamas Vasary in Maryland, he noted having performed both Liszt concertos with Fricsay but not for recorded posterity.
Ciccolini and Fricsay approach the Liszt Concerto (1839; rev. 1861) as a mercurial study in thematic transformation, the A Major chord with the top C-sharp acting as a kind of anchor in the midst of changes modeled on Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy and Weber’s F Minor Konzertstueck. The sensuous wash of the integrated keyboard part–what Litolff had characterized in his oeuvre as a “concerto symphonious”–eschews bravura for its own sake and basks in self-conscious indulgences of poetic musing. The dialogue between Ciccolini and the solo cello proves beguiling, a nocturne in the midst of a voluptuous labyrinth that eventually breaks out into a fervent A Major march in a decidedly heroic Hungarian style. Fricsay drives a hard tempo, but an undaunted Ciccolini reveals more than enough technical equipment to lend personal spit and polish to a beautifully-mounted performance that has the audience in raptures at the final measures.
From the opening heartbeats in 6/8 with the tympani, we realize that Fricsay’s C Minor Brahms  Symphony will be wrought in the manner of Furtwaengler–a comparison often made in relation to Fricsay’s way with Dvorak’s New World Symphony–a  vehement and tortured vision interrupted by occasional sunny gestures. The OSR strings urge us forward with stringent attacks, only partially calmed by the low woodwinds, basses and cellos. The brief open-air quality of the first movement–ushering in the mountains via the French horn–again cedes to an inexorable fate motif akin to the darker periods in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. That the passionate music resides in sonata-form testifies to a kind of existential irony in the Brahms character, that even his most ardently personal outbursts required severe structure or strictures.
Fricsay’s capacity for symphonic song shines in the interior movements, with excellent support from the first violin, clarinet, and oboe in the Andante sostenuto. An idyllic sonority at a brisk tempo–with incursions of fiery temper–from the OSR reigns for the Intermezzo movement. At the Adagio for the final movement we come upon the tragic muse in Fricsay once, and that identical scale with which we liken him to a younger incarnation of Furtwaengler. Even the deliberation in the pizzicato transition and build up of pedal point shimmers with controlled frenzy, moving to the Alphorn tune Brahms uses as an analogy to Caspar Friedrich’s portrait of “The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog.” The heroic C Major tune that modulates to E Major receives rather a massive syncopated development section under Fricsay, with the trumpet figures and tympani adding a nervous tremor to the otherwise empyrean thoughts. Fricsay’s urgency in the contrapuntal sections impels us with some hysteria forward to the series of punctuations that finally explode on a chord and string sequence that take us to the opening Adagio of the movement. The secondary theme offers consolation, with weeping figures in the strings, the Shades from Rodin’s statuary. The extended coda offers some truly inspired string chords in pedal–almost a rival for the teemed Eugen Jochum inscription from Berlin–that culminates in C Major trombones. The fine peroration bring to a close a rare moment for Fricsay, certainly, but even more for the OSR, which seldom had to provide such unbridled fervor under their wonted leader Ernest Ansermet.
–Gary Lemco
 

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