Serkin & Rodzinski — Beethoven & Brahms Piano Concertos — Pristine Classical

by | Jun 26, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37; BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 – Rudolf Serkin, piano/ Philharmonic Symphony of New York/ Artur Rodzinski – Pristine Audio PASC 566, 75:14 [] ****:

Andrew Rose informs us in his notes to this release that documentation exists of merely three concerts – all unissued previously – in New York featuring Bohemian piano virtuoso Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991) and conductor Artur Rodzinski (1892-1958), and of those that from Lewisohn Stadium 1940 appears lost to posterity. The first of the surviving recordings, that of the Beethoven C minor Concerto (8 April 1945), finds Serkin in his most prestigious element, performing the work he would record several times, most notably with Eugene Ormandy and Leonard Bernstein.

Portrait Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven,
by Hornemann

The collaboration in the Beethoven proceeds at an energized, forward tempo, unsentimental but eminently effective.  The sound quality does not stint on Beethoven’s woodwind lines that punctuate the often galvanized fioritura (up to the high G) of which Serkin remains capable in full fettle. Besides his capacity to apply a percussive patina on virtually all he surveys, Serkin proves no less a provider of the velvet glove, singing the long line or the rousing arioso when called upon.  The urgency of the first movement’s momentum to the frenzied cadenza stuns us with the immediacy of the musical drama. We always marvel at the flexibility of Serkin’s trill and his gradation of dynamics. Thunderous runs and pointed layers of harmony converge, moving on the trill to the intrusion of the tympani and the famous, most original, blazing coda.

The E Major Largo insists on its own magic, and we can hear Serkin’s moody singing as he articulates his noble sentiments. The Philharmonic string line, arco and pizzicato, in tandem with the flute, bassoon, fulfill a loving reading of this extended meditation Beethoven propels his participants into a sturdy C Major before Serkin and Rodzinski put their afterburners into 6/8 to dismantle the rondo theme for its permutations.  The concluding page projects flair and good humor that thoroughly endear themselves to the audience.

Portrait of Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms

The appearance of the Brahms D minor Concerto (10 February 1946) does have a rival incarnation on the Yves St-Laurent label (YSL 78-587), where the disc preserves Rodzinski’s suite from Jerome Kern, and the opening piece, the music of Corelli. This performance of the Brahms will bear string comparison with Serkin’s commercial collaboration with Fritz Reiner in Pittsburgh (on ML 4100). Besides the cosmic, even tragic, drama played out in this titanic piano concerto, Serkin elicits some poetic pearly play in the course of his driven interchanges with the orchestra, whose French horn resounds in good voice.  The first movement proceeds in definite periods, much like a Bruckner symphony but with piano obbligato. The sudden piano call to attention ignites the opening theme for a thunderous tussle in dialogue, moving with upward keyboard trills and moody work in the low strings. The momentum quite literally evaporates to yield to a brief waltz with wind colors, only to allow the rockets of the orchestra to thrust us once more into the maelstrom for the recapitulation. In the course of the music’s review of themes, Serkin’s pearly tone overrides his natural dynamic aggression, and he poses an introspective Brahms of 1856 eager to set his own path by way of nods to Beethoven and Schumann.  A marvelous confidence permeates the realization, including those tympanic punctuations taken directly from the Beethoven C minor Concerto we’d just auditioned. The coda, at blinding speed, manages to shake the roof of Carnegie Hall.

The hazy D Major Adagio, meant as a requiem for both Schumann and the composer’s mother, proceeds in nobly articulate gestures to the cadenza whose rich trills call us back to the first movement, but here celebrating something like a personal ecstasy. The sense of intimacy likely, for Brahms, betrays his deep feelings for Clara Schumann, beloved amidst the throes of husband Robert’s mental decline, and the storms of deep passion that surround this hymnody that concludes with a tympanic undercurrent. The gypsy Rondo: Allegro non troppo conforms to the standard last movement form, with two piano cadenzas, and more than a mere allusion to the Beethoven Op. 37.  What makes the movement a spectacle lies in the potent syncopations and the velocity of its often demonic counterpoint. The audience has responded to each movement with applause, convinced, mesmerized by the vulcanism of the ensemble, a fire that New York would have to wait to re-experience some seven years later on, when one William Kapell would appear in this Promethean work with Dimitri Mitropoulos.

–Gary Lemco


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