These performances were available on Tring and Intersound in the 1990s. The recorded sound is advertised as audiophile. While it certainly is very good, I wouldn’t characterize it as audiophile. Contrary to the program notes, Sequeira Costa was born in 1929 in Angola, not Portugal. He studied with two pupils of Liszt, José Vianna da Motta and Mark Hamburg—thus being only once removed from a composer who was a friend of Chopin. Costa also studied with Marguerite Long, Jacques Fevrier, and Edwin Fischer. In 1951, he took the grand prize at the Marguerite Long International Piano Competition. In 1958, Dmitri Shostakovich invited Costa to sit on the jury of the first International Tchaikovsky Competition, to which contest he has returnedRead more six times. As a pianist, Costa possesses an unusual sense of focus and can make a big sound. This has made him a noted interpreter of Rachmaninoff. I would recommend his CD of Rachmaninoff’s Second and Fourth concertos on the now defunct IMP label. Costa’s Chopin is richly illuminating. I listened to the present CD four times, and discovered new insights each time I played it.
In the opening movement of the First Concerto, Costa’s initial entry is dramatic. He interprets maestoso here as “majestic.” Costa presents a composer mature beyond his years, with great worldly wisdom. At times the movement has a feeling of reverie, even contemplation. Not everything about Costa’s Chopin here is serious: Often there is sparkling conversation. In the second movement, the pianist gives us a romanza with the many facets of a soliloquy. Costa is unafraid to make a big sound. This is the pianist as bardic storyteller, with an epic, eternal dimension. For the final movement, Costa does not interpret vivace to mean unbuttoned mirth. Rather, we get something like an upturned corner of the mouth. The effect is saturnine, with a touch of the world-weary cosmopolitan virtuoso. Gilbert Varga’s accompaniment here suits this mood very well.
Costa clearly does not believe that the Second Concerto is cut from the same cloth as the First. Varga’s opening tutti has great rhythmic vigor, leading to a response from Costa that is highly tempestuous. Here maestoso is taken to mean “dramatic,” as it does in the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. The pianist’s treatment of the second subject is totally unsentimental, quite different from most other performers. In the second movement, Costa gives us a calm after the storm, but with an underlying sense of unease. This is youthful romance as recollected from maturity; there is nothing delicate or frail about it. Costa paints this movement on a broad canvas, with the tremolo section in the orchestra providing the key to the whole movement. The final movement provides the resolution to all that has gone before it. The composer now appears to have a great sense of self-possession. In places you can hear Chopin chuckle wryly, offering a pensive vivace. The ending is hardly triumphant—it puts one in mind of the conclusion of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. It may not be coincidental that the young Shostakovich was once a piano contestant in the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw.
I scarcely need to add that Costa has given us wonderfully revealing Chopin. My favorite CDs, however, that combine the two concertos on one disc are by Annerose Schmidt and Janne Mertanen. I would rank Costa’s just beneath those two, alongside the CDs by Adam Harasiewicz with Heinrich Hollreiser and by Maria João Pires with Armin Jordan, both of which unfortunately are out of print. Listening to Costa, you can understand the esteem in which he has been held by Shostakovich and other artists. Let’s hope that, in addition to his albums for Claudio and Marco Polo, there is a treasure trove of concert recordings and radio broadcasts by Costa that can be released on CD, so we may fully appreciate his legacy. There’s certainly more to this man than simply an artist available for a budget-priced recording of Chopin’s concertos.