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Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 3, Sonatas / Gulda, Rossi

Release Date: 02/26/2008 
Label:  Medici Masters   Catalog #: 24   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Friedrich Gulda
Conductor:  Mario Rossi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3. 1 Piano Sonatas: No. 23, “Appassionata”; No. 28 Friedrich Gulda (pn); Mario Rossi, cond; Cologne West German RSO MEDICI ARTS 24, mono (75:33) Broadcast: Cologne 2/22/1957; 2/25/1957 1

Pianist Friedrich Gulda is a man who has cut his own path through the musical world, much to the chagrin and Read more annoyance of many but particularly straight-laced Teutons. In 1956 he scandalized the classical music world by canceling an engagement at Salzburg to do a gig playing jazz at Birdland in New York As the years progressed, he began mixing in his own improvised works in recitals between pieces by Beethoven, Schubert, and Mozart. That this activity should have brought him shame and humiliation at the very time when such serious and dedicated artists as Charlie Parker, George Russell, Charles Mingus, John Lewis, Miles Davis, Gunther Schüller, Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck, and Wayne Shorter were raising jazz above the level of nightclub entertainment to a form of art says much about the snobbism of European audiences and critics. Musicians had no problem with Gulda’s mixing of jazz and classical; they only questioned whether his jazz was good. The answer: it was extremely clever but a little studied and not always inspired. Okay, so he wasn’t Art Tatum or Bill Evans. But that was no reason to dismiss him as an artist; at least he was sincere in his endeavors.

These two February 1957 concerts present Gulda in the kind of setting he really did thrive in, playing Beethoven. By this time he’d survived seven years as a wunderkind to be accepted as the probable successor to Artur Schnabel in this music and Mozart; certainly, this very precious sound document indicates that he was already a mature and seasoned interpreter. Neither Gulda nor his accompanist in the concerto, the great and vastly underrated Italian conductor Mario Rossi—whom I personally consider to have been every bit the equal of Cantelli or Fricsay, and in fact superior to Giulini, Votto, or Gavazzeni, all of whom had a much higher commercial profile—lets us down for a single moment. My gold standard in the Beethoven concertos, as a set, is Leon Fleisher with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, but this performance of the Third has not only Szell but also Toscanini and everyone else in the universe beat flat down into the ground. The precision of Szell and Levine is there, but with an even greater clarity of texture and an emotional commitment bordering on the psychic. Gulda’s entrance, bold and energetic as it is, almost sounds understated after Rossi’s peroration of the opening orchestral section, but by the time he reaches the dancing, bounding triplets, Gulda is fully in sync with his conductor emotionally as well as musically. Even in the quieter passages, he maintains tension, and the way he slightly accentuates some of his forte attacks leads to a sense of smoldering passion. This music seethes, yet with a lid on it that just occasionally (as at the 6:20 mark in the first movement) boils over, spilling the composer’s emotions over the edge. And omigod, listen to the way Rossi follows Gulda’s outburst! The entire first movement is such a cat-and-mouse game, pianist and conductor exploding and receding emotionally as the music dictates. If any reader of this review has any doubt as to whether or not I’m exaggerating Rossi’s greatness as a conductor, listen to this performance. The 1957 radio sound, though mono, is extraordinarily clear, and the lean sonorities Rossi drew from an orchestra, much closer to Fricsay than the growing lushness of Giulini, will have you on the edge of your seat. Gulda’s extended cadenza at the end of the first movement is nothing short of brilliant.

The second movement has perfect repose, a noble tone, and a singing line. When Rossi brings in the winds and strings, they sound like the descent of Pan and Orpheus embarking on more formal music than is their wont. There is magic going on here, difficult to describe but evident upon listening. The orchestra seems to be simultaneously opening the heavens and laying out a carpet for the soloist to walk on; I’ve never heard such absolute clarity in the pizzicato strings in the section beginning at 3:23 into the movement. In fact, this is the first time I think I’ve ever actually really heard the pizzicato strings at that moment. The way Gulda plays the bridge passages, for instance in the exact middle of the movement, almost sounds as if he is putting up a hand for the orchestra to stop so that he can express his ecstasy.

After two deep movements, the rather lightweight third might seem either a throwaway or anti-climax, but here that is not the case. Both Gulda and Rossi approach this “lightweight” movement with complete seriousness, highlighting its playful moments as brief smiles amidst the seriousness. I’ve often said that Beethoven is the most complex of composers because his music calls for everything—drama, brusque peasant humor, and introspection. In this performance, Gulda and Rossi indeed give us Beethoven in all his facets. In Beethoven, the wellspring of his passion is tempered by his intellect and forged by his humor, like an equilateral triangle, and should therefore be present in equipoise.

Not only does Gulda give the full measure of Beethoven in the concerto, but also his is far and away the greatest “Appassionata” I’ve ever heard. It’s on the same exalted plane as Schnabel’s performances of the first seven sonatas, Craig Sheppard’s “Pathétique” and “Tempest,” Walter Gieseking’s “Waldstein,” Emil Gilels’s “Les adieux,” Egon Petri’s “Hammerklavier,” and John O’Conor’s performances of the last three sonatas. In short, it is perfection. Everything you could want from the “Appassionata” is there. He is bursting with passion yet perfectly controlled and deep into the score at one and the same time. Fortes ring out with an almost crystalline brilliance, yet are never over-attacked, and he is able to blend the outbursts into the lyrical passages seamlessly, as if the entire piece is being exhaled by Beethoven in one long breath. Once you start listening to this performance, you cannot stop. You just can’t. Gulda and Beethoven won’t let you. You have to ride out this musical storm from its troubled beginning through its almost stoic stomp to the finish. My one caveat, and it is minor, is that his slow movement seemed a bit too fast, lacking the repose he brought to the second movement of the concerto, but it’s surely in keeping with his overall conception of the work.

By contrast, Sonata No. 28 is given one of its most finely chiseled readings, at moments both more introspective and more explosive than any other version I’ve ever heard. Gulda knows how to hold the Luftpausen and tighten the drama by degrees; he understands that even in such a “lightweight” work which just preceded the mighty “Hammerklavier,” Beethoven wasn’t meant to be taken lightly. Indeed, in all these performances Gulda brings out yet a fourth dimension of Beethoven not always touched on, his inner darkness, the struggle he had on a daily basis to just keep going, to be who he was and write music that he knew would outlive him and, in a sense, represent his persona to countless future generations. He had already witnessed Mozart’s death and seen how his music had either fallen into oblivion or been blown out of proportion to the composer’s original intent. He hoped that his own music would not be so misconstrued; he certainly wrote enough detailed instructions in his scores to eliminate ambiguity.

One cannot write a critical review of an artistic genius such as Gulda. One can either accept, praise, and recommend his vision, or reject it as not in line with one’s own. I choose the former path.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 3 in C minor, Op. 37 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Friedrich Gulda (Piano)
Conductor:  Mario Rossi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 02/1957 
Venue:  Radio House Cologne, Germany 
Length: 33 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 23 in F minor, Op. 57 "Appassionata" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Friedrich Gulda (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1804-1805; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 02/1957 
Venue:  Radio House Cologne, Germany 
Length: 20 Minutes 5 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 28 in A major, Op. 101 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Friedrich Gulda (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 02/1957 
Venue:  Radio House Cologne, Germany 
Length: 21 Minutes 22 Secs. 

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