It is rare to come across performances and recordings of Dinu Lipatti’s compositions, and the last time I came across the Sonatine in an excellent recital for the left hand by Antoine Rebstein (see review). Lipatti’s reputation as one of the 20th century’s greatest pianists has unsurprisingly overshadowed his work as a composer. No doubt encouraged and inspired by his godfather George Enescu, in his time he trained with the best, studying with Paul Dukas, Alfred Cortot and Nadia Boulanger while at the École normale de musique in Paris.
With its numerous première recordings, this double disc set from fellow Rumanian Luiza Borac is an instant reference for Lipatti’s works for piano. Dinu Lipatti had a BechsteinRead more piano at his home at Fundateanca in Romania and often favoured Bechstein instruments as a performer. Luiza Borac has recorded these solo works on a Bechstein as a gesture towards a more faithful reproduction of his sound as a composer, and the solo recordings certainly have a marvellously full and musical sound.
The Concertino in Classical Style is a student work, and is an intriguing synthesis of influences and homages, including a clear allusion to Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ in the first movement. The gorgeous Adagio molto second movement has some of Stravinsky’s neo-classical flavour, as do the playful Allegretto and final Allegro molto which follow. It has to be admitted that there is a degree of aimless wandering about in some of this music, but it certainly is worth exploring, having many moments of great fun and making some potent expressive points. The piano is arguably a little too far forward in the recorded balance, but the Academy of St Martin in the Fields plays with gusto and the work serves as a fine introduction to Luiza Borac’s virtuoso technique and sensitive musicality.
Composed of “purely Romanian themes and with much brio”, the Sonatina for Left Hand is given a terrific performance by Borac, the illusion of two handed performance entirely convincing and indeed, pretty breathtaking, the pungency of the folk music content more emphatic than with Rebstein. The Sonata in D minor was Lipatti’s first, written at the age of 14. This first recording reveals a staggeringly precocious talent, heavily into the gestures of Liszt and pianistic techniques of Chopin and other Romantics. Strongly influenced it may be but this goes further than pastiche, showing an ear for some pretty sophisticated and at times even modern sounding harmonic language. This substantial piece received a mention at the 1932 National Georges Enescu Competition for Composition, and while one can imagine why its high-romantic bombast might have seen it missing out on an award, it does seem remarkable that it has taken 80 years for someone to record it.
Another first recording, Albéniz’s unfinished Navarra was re-worked by Lipatti in 1940. The pianistic qualities of the piece have been impressively enhanced and beefed-up somewhat, giving it quite an orchestral feel while maintaining much of the identity of the original. Lipatti wrote three Nocturnes in 1939, but only the F sharp minor one has survived, with its slinky harmonies and expressively lyrical melodic lines. The A minor Nocturne is an earlier piece from 1937 and more overtly folk-music derived, using as it does a Moldavian Christmas carol – not that many of us would spot such sources. Borac brings out all of this character in these pieces, while also finding and exploiting their impressionistic colours.
Moving on to the second disc, and we immediately enter a seriously different expressive atmosphere with the Fantasie Op. 8. Mark Ainley’s booklet notes point out that this is Lipatti’s “longest and most complex solo piano composition”, and this is by no means hard to believe. You can sense the composer becoming more involved and intertwined with his material in the five movements of this masterpiece, allowing thinner textures to speak for themselves in exploratory and often heartfelt simplicity. There are folk-music elements and some ideas which seem to point fairly directly towards Bartók, but this is music with intrinsic and individual quality, filled with fascinating nuance and hardly a note wasted. If you were yet to be convinced, this is the one piece which makes us understand why Nadia Boulanger would have written, “When the compositions of Dinu Lipatti are all printed, the greatness of his gift and of his craftsmanship will be recognised. It will become obvious that he was really a composer… who found his pleasure and his real life in the process, and who used the technical means of his art to create the emotions resulting from achieved beauty.”
Once the apotheosis of the remarkable eleven-minute final Allegro of the Fantasie has sounded there seems little else that can be said, and the programme winds up with some lovely transcriptions of Bach. Added poignancy is given to the Andante cantabile of the Pastorale in F when we are told that this was the last piece Lipatti ever played, though Luiza Borac thankfully avoids loading the piece with extra sentimentality. The transcriptions from Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd! were the last pieces Lipatti produced in 1950.
While reasonably rich in passionately youthful outings this programme is worth every penny of its asking price, not only for its fine recording qualities and Luiza Borac’s superb playing, but for undiscovered gems – in particular the amazing Fantaisie, as well as the fascinating Concertino. If your collection has any cherished recordings by Dinu Lipatti as pianist then you owe it to yourself to complete your picture of this legendary musician in his most personal and potent creative work.
– MusicWeb International (Dominy Clements) Read less