Nelson Friere – Memories: The Unreleased Recordings – Decca

by | Dec 5, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Nelson Freire – Memories:  Piano Works by Gluck, Bach, Beethoven, Strauss, Debussy, Villa-Lobos, Bartok, Brahms (complete listing below) – Decca 486  3136 (2 CDs 2:36:44) (9/9/22) Distrib. By Universal] *****:

This fine tribute to Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire (1944-2021) presents us with previously unreleased Decca recordings from Berlin, 2014, and bonus tracks from radio broadcasts, 1970-1985, with several pieces in their premiere appearance on compact disc. These so-called “posthumous” thoughts reveal Freire as a pianist of exceptional color nuance, capable of hearty aggression in works like the Strauss Burleske and Bartok First Concerto, and infinite, liquid grace in the solo pieces by Gluck, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.   

Freire and conductor Horst Stein (1928-2008) deliver a grand leisure in the Brahms B-flat Concerto (28 March – 2 April,1977), in Frankfurt, with the conductor’s allowing his French horn ample leeway in the opening solo and in various color accompaniments in the second and last movements. From Stuttgart, 6 December 1972, Freire joins conductor Uri Segal (b. 1944) for an eminently lyrical rendition of the Beethoven G Major Concerto, the “Aeolian harp” of piano concertos. Most curious, Freire selects the cadenza by Saint-Saens for the first and third movements, a florid gambit I had not heard employed since the recorded collaboration of Artur Rubinstein with Sir Thomas Beecham from1947. The master of contemporary-music conducting, Michael Gielen (1927-2019), leads the 22-23 December 1970 rendition of the Bartok Concerto No. 1, played less for its blistering percussion than for whatever poetic content it has to reveal. 

For some listeners less beguiled by sheer virtuosic audacity, as in the Strauss Burleske (10 December 1985) from Baden-Baden with Zoltan Pesko (1937-2020), the opening, solo works by Gluck and Bach will capture their musical imagination, with readings of luminosity of tone and temperamental poise, such as we associate with Wilhelm Kempff in the Gluck Orfeo  transcription for piano, and with Myra Hess, who “patented” the transcription of the aria from Cantata 147. The latest of the recordings, that of the Villa-Lobos Preludio from Bachianas Brasilieras No. 4 (rec. 27 February 2019), fuses, as it must, Bach’s essential polyphony with the national lyrico-dramatic character of Brazil’s chief musical spokesperson and his most ardent interpreter. The tiny Beethoven Bagatelle in B-flat from Switzerland (28 April 2006), in a music-box sonority, plays like a swan song to a cherished companion. 

While the accompanying booklet, whose warmly affectionate notes by Executive Producer Dominic Frye, share wonderfully personal reflections, the font chosen by Decca must be some kind of extreme eye-chart test, so bring a powerful magnifying glass. When we ignore the reading matter and attend to Freire, we experience the uninterrupted rapture of keyboard mastery in its richest incarnation.

–Gary Lemco

Nelson Freire: Memories =

GLUCK (arr. Sgambati): Melodie from Orfeo;
BACH (arr. Hess): Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring;
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto no. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; Bagatelle in B-flat Major, Op. 119/11; Andante favori in F Major;
R. STRAUSS: Burleske in D Minor;
DEBUSSY: Le plus que Lente;
VILLA-LOBOS: Preludio from, Bachianas Brasilieras No. 4;
BARTOK: Piano Concerto No. 1;
BRAHMS: Piano Concerto no. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118/2

Nelson Freire, piano/ Stuttgart Radio Symphony/ Uri Segal (Beethoven)/ SWR Symphony Orchestra, Baden-Baden/ Zoltan Pesko (Strauss)/ Frankfurt Radio Symphony/ Michael Gielen (Bartok)/ Horst Stein (Brahms)

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