Rudolf Firkusny, piano = MOZART: Fantasia in C Minor, K. 396; SCHUMANN: Davidsbuendlertaenze, Op. 6; Kinderszenen, Op. 15;  SCHUBERT: Drei Klavierstuecke, D. 946 – Rudolf Firkusny, p. – MeloClassic MC 1032, 73:33 [www.meloclassic.com] ****:

Among the most congenial and popular of keyboard celebrities, Czech pianist Rudolf Firkusny (1912-1994) mastered a truly international repertory, from which MeloClassic draws upon SouthWest German Radio’s archives of recitals, 1957-1964. This Austro-German recital, some of which Firkusny inscribed to commercial distribution, includes the Mozart and Schubert works new to his discography.

Firkusny opens with his “live” rendition from Ludwigsburg (28 September 1957) of Mozart’s 1782 incomplete Fantasia in C Minor, a work rich in unusually chromatic arpeggios, triplet sixty-fourth notes,  and long-held bass notes. The eventual modulation to C Major, supplied by Maximilian Stadler, may not convince everyone of its poetic justice, but Firkusny presents a rendition artfully balanced and vocally colored.

The ultra-subjective, Romantic world of Schumann dominates this recital: first, Firkusny traverses the 1837 “Davids-League” (28 January 1960) and its perpetual battle against the cultural philistine. The eighteen miniatures that comprise the suite represent not so much a narrative as “tempos of initiation” into the Schumann ethos, opening as it does with a quote (in C Major) from  Clara Wieck’s opera. The various personae in Schumann’s own psychological arsenal appear, Florestan and Eusebius, in their aggressive and poetic stance, respectively. The alternately militant and dreamy sections move a gallant, even manic clip, under Firkusny, as Wild und lustig, No. XIII.  Firkusny brings out the harmonic exploration in several episodes, such as No. VII Nicht schnell. No Schumann performer can afford to dismiss Innig (No. II) as the very heart of the matter, and Fikusny elicits the interior dreamscape with restrained passion. The Zart und singend section and its immediate successor, Frisch, achieve a poetic stance in the manner of Chopin, with an insistence of rounded trills. We feel that the sensibility of Carnaval lies crouching in wait.   Whenever Schumann asserts some emotional gravity – the threat of Philistinism – he wanders into B Minor. Wie aus der Ferne and Nicht schnell, the two concluding moments, salute the long-ago and the faraway, the nostalgia for the dream that the real life has always remained within, like the Kingdom of Heaven, or Kierkegaard’s “truth is subjectivity.”

Between the League of David and the ultimate childhood recollection, the 1838 Kinderszenen (31 October 1961), MeloClassic inserts Franz Schubert’s 1828 Drei Klavierstuecke (14 December 1961), works likely intended as a third set of impromptus but published separately (1868) through the efforts of Johannes Brahms. Each presents a ternary structure in a deliberate tonal progression: E-flat Minor, E -flat Major and C Major. Schubert’s fusion of purely pianistic, pyrotechnical finesse and songlike melody has been accomplished with startling facility.  Firkusny captures the first impromptu’s fine architecture, its anxious opening section with duple top line over a triplet accompaniment balanced by a lyrical central portion. Schubert borrowed the opening strains of the beguiling E-flat Major impromptu from his opera Fierrabras. Firkusny relishes its immediate move to an angular, agitated motif that urges emotional strife. The third impromptu in C Major receives from Firkusny the (meteoric) folk dance impulse that allies much of Schubert to the Czech tradition of Tomaschek and Vorisek.

Firkusny enters – via studio recording in Baden-Baden – the realm of childhood sensibility with the easy, colorful grace we associate with interpreters Walter Gieseking and Clara Haskil. Hasche-Mann takes flight, while Bittendes Kind lolls in dreamland. Firkusny rivals Horowitz in the perennial Traeumerai for tender nostalgia. Firkusny controls his dynamics for the Ritter vom Steckenpferd, so the horse does not throw Bellerophon. The liquid quality of Fast zu ernst quite mesmerizes. The broadest of the dreams, Kind im Einschlummern, moves from a tinge of nervousness into a cocoon of familial warmth. With Der Dichter spricht, an objectivity of adult distance enters, set in the G Major that began the cycle.

This enchanting collection offers a bounty of biographical information – courtesy of Michael Waiblinger – and a collection of Firkusny photos I had not been privy to elsewhere.  The recorded sound recommends this disc to any serious student of the piano.

—Gary Lemco