Notes and Editorial Reviews
It took wild horses to drag Curzon into the studio, at least in his last years, and he was an A&R man’s nightmare when it came to agreeing what might be issued. Yet his rather small legacy of recordings shows no trace of the agonies: more to the point, it continues to grow in stature. Reacquaintance with these two sonatas has been a treat. One could say that Curzon was not a natural pianist, yet he developed a technique which admirably served the force of his will: and when the two were in harness and in good shape the transcendental aspects of his playing could produce an indelible musical experience. (When they were not, in some of his concerts, the falls from grace could be spectacular.)
These recordings have lost none
of their freshness. The little holes and imperfections (and there are not many – the clinker in the last chord of the Brahms Sonata is the worst) are quite unimportant because at every moment Curzon is conveying an exactitude of character and sense. His sound ‘speaks’ and persuades you to listen to something precise. Nothing is generalized. Yet the overview is there as well as the detail. As with every great pianist, the quality of his sound is distinctive: tightly focused, crystalline, refulgent – not as German as you might perhaps have expected from his training and the repertoire he played (but Wanda Landowska was among his teachers as well as Schnabel). With his sovereign control of line and timing, the pianism seems at all times to be perfectly weighted and to have everything within its sights. You could say that about other great interpreters, no doubt, but there was a special attractiveness about Curzon’s ability to delight the senses while penetrating to the heart of the matter. When he was on form he could talk of the most serious things while singing at you like a nightingale. He might have agreed, I think, that pianists stand most in need of listening to singers.
How crude most performances of the Brahms F minor Sonata are when compared with his. You might say he carries it on the breath and succeeds in projecting it without raising his voice – its gestures flung across the keyboard as rhetoric, not barnstorming, and all the climaxes welling up from within (and how they glow). Yet its scale and range are thrillingly made manifest.
This is terrific value at mid price. The sound is fair to good in both the big pieces – and only slightly inferior in the earlier recording. The two Brahms Intermezzos are very dry in acoustic as if Curzon had recorded them at home (perhaps he did?); but so they were on the original LP, I remember, back in 1963. The booklet has notes by Curzon himself but nothing at all about him, not even his dates, which is a pity.
-- Stephen Plaistow, Gramophone [7/1996]
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