Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concerto No. 24.
Fantasia in c,
Clifford Curzon (pn); John Pritchard, cond;
Bernard Haitink, cond.;
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4181, mono
(77:32) Live: London 9/3/1981;
Here?s an amusing game you can try at home: ask a musically knowledgeable friend to name three compositions for piano and orchestra, each in C Minor, that have as little in common musically or aesthetically as possible. I bet nobody comes up with a better combination than the three works presented here.
It?s clear, of course, that the focus of this CD is not the repertoire, but the artistry of Clifford Curzon (1907?82). These performances took place late in the pianist?s career, and it is surprising how much they tell us about Curzon the musician.
The Delius Concerto is one of many contemporary works Curzon played early in his career; later on he concentrated almost exclusively on the acknowledged peaks of the standard repertoire. This 1981 performance, then, must have been an exercise in nostalgia. The Concerto is an early work, and a problematic one; Delius?s musical language did not easily accommodate the tension between piano and orchestra, and the piece was massively revised between its completion in 1897 and that of its final version of 1907 (see Colin Anderson?s feature article on Piers Lane?s premiere recording of the original version in
29:4); its musical language belongs to the sound world of
Over the Hills and Far Away
, with Grieg?s influence still audible.
On this occasion, Curzon digs into Delius?s big gestures with a real sense of enthusiasm and expansiveness (his version takes just over 25 minutes, compared with 22 for Jean-Rodolphe Kars?s 1970 studio version and just under 21 for Moiseiwitsch?s 1946 premiere recording), even though there is a bit of rough ensemble at the beginning. Needless to say, he brings the house down; BBC has left in over a half minute of applause.
The Mozart C-Minor Concerto is more representative of the mature Curzon: the first movement unfolds in a perfect middle-of-the-road tempo; adjectives jotted down as I listened are: patrician, magisterial, balanced, but also mannered, calculated, precious. The program notes by Bryce Morrison describe Curzon?s obsessing endlessly over a phrase until he found a solution that satisfied him; in this performance, almost every detail sounds carefully thought out, so one misses a sense of spontaneity, but this is compensated for by a perfect sense of balance and proportion. It?s a sort of Mozart-playing one simply doesn?t hear any more, but it is fascinating to hear it done with such conviction. Still, I would think this approach might have been more suited to, say, the A-Major Concerto, K 488, whose emotional currents run more evenly.
In the Beethoven, Curzon plunges into the opening fantasia with such conviction that when the right-hand octaves come to grief, it all seems part of the price to be paid for the scale of the gestures. His playing throughout displays the same intensity and enthusiasm.
The Mozart and Beethoven were recorded in the Royal Festival Hall; even though the latter is mono, both sound clear and well balanced. The Delius, done in the Royal Albert Hall, sounds relatively indistinct and occasionally murky. No text is provided for the Beethoven.
I?m quite sure Curzon never recorded the Delius commercially; I?m not aware of any other recording of the Beethoven. For collectors of his recordings, that makes this issue self-recommending. For others, it provides a distinct portrait of a sort of musician they don?t make any more. This is a fascinating disc.
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan