Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concertos Nos. 1, 4.
op. 126/1, 2
Friedrich Gulda (pn, cond); Vienna SO
MUSIC & ARTS 1239 (78:40) Live:
Sao Paulo 4/19/56;
Music and Arts has released these concert recordings by the young Friedrich Gulda in honor of what would be his 80th birthday. They are poised, unidiosyncratic performances of two concertos that were particularly important to him and that he would play and sometimes conduct as late as the 1990s. He had already performed the Fourth as early as 1946 on the occasion of the Geneva Piano Competition’s closing concert (he had won) with Ernest Ansermet conducting, and he had recorded the First with Karl Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic in 1951.
Gulda doesn’t draw attention to his considerable virtuosity by playing extra loud or fussing with tempi, odd voicings, or agogics, which is to say, he never sounds like he’s showing off. He always sounds fully engaged and brings a feeling of sweetness and equilibrium to the music. He tends not to heighten contrasts within a movement rather than unifying a single mood; for example the minor-key episodes in the First Concerto’s finale are less rude and stride piano-like than in many other performances. An exception is the slow movement of the Fourth, which the orchestra begins at an unusually brisk tempo, the better for the piano to “tame the wild beasts” with its soothing, slower speed. Gulda’s opening statement in the Fourth, in which “the pianist leaves his calling card” as Strauss supposedly described it, is unassuming yet perfectly inflected.
The Vienna Symphony’s slightly less than uniform strings would not be mistaken for those of a first-rate orchestra, but its ensemble with Gulda is excellent and the recorded sound is surprisingly clear and resonant. The piano, a beautiful-sounding instrument, is given the prominence that a well-miked studio recording would provide.
This is recommended for collectors interested in the early Gulda but I notice that there already exits a disc on Orfeo with live performances of the same two concertos from the same series of concerts in 1953, from the very next night.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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