Notes and Editorial Reviews
Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra
Piano Concerto No. 2
Piano Sonata in B
Davidsbündlertänze. Fantasy in C.
A mix of familiar and rare Géza Anda recordings and a timely reminder of the short-lived Hungarian pianist (1921-1976). I went straight to the third CD, which couples the
with Schubert?s ultimate sonata. Yes, on one CD. It plays for a total of 75:47. You may presume then that there is no exposition repeat in the first movement of the Schubert, and that Anda is parsimonious with repetitions in the Beethoven. Anda begins Beethoven?s epic set of variations (recorded in 1961 in Lucerne) with a rather deliberate presentation of the Waltz itself, which also lacks wit and charm, and follows it with a curiously leaden one of the First Variation. Overall, though, this is an individual if not always convincing account in which Anda seems concerned mainly with clarity. There feels something too learned about Anda?s approach, almost a lecture on what Beethoven does with Diabelli?s tune, and the lack of repeats compromises the work?s scale. Nevertheless, some of the slower sections are communed with in a compelling way, and Anda?s is an individual response, intimately analyzed, that one is grateful to hear and know about; the final Variations are of profound simplicity, and one?s admiration for Anda?s approach grows throughout the performance. The dry sound is ideal.
The Schubert (1963, Berlin), with somewhat warmer sonorities, begins in perfect tempo for Schubert?s prescribed
; not as distended as Richter, say, or as unequivocal as Alicia de Larrocha (Decca), Anda invests doubt into the opening measures; but he speeds up rather disjunctively halfway through the exposition. This is, then, another interesting performance, not always persuasive: the first movement is quite volatile in tempo, mood, and dynamic range; the Andante sostenuto is more an adagio with Anda introducing later material with a bump and rather calculated accentuation that draws attention to itself, yet there is much that is hypersensitive; the Scherzo is given with a moderate tempo and a light touch, although the trio is half speed and felt from note to note, almost as if trying to create a slow song (odd!); and the finale is clipped and faster than most, and almost made skittish, but with some rhetorical melodrama along the way, not to mention some deft fingers and finely judged balances.
The fourth CD couples Chopin?s 24 Preludes (1959, Berlin) with Schumann?s
(1966, Vienna). The Chopin is wonderful, not the most tempestuous of addresses, but full of fantasy and heart. Just the qualities needed for Schumann; and Anda doesn?t disappoint in this composer, although maybe he doesn?t soar, take wing, enough, but there?s a poetic sensibility, a peering behind the notes, which holds the attention, and a darting impetuosity and an unaffected intimacy that is at one with Schumann. In between these diverse yet large-scale works is Chopin?s Polonaise in A
(op. 53) that helps take the CD?s playing time to 81 minutes. Yet, recorded in 1959 in Berlin, this is a curiously underplayed rendition, not infallible rhythmically, and which has more life in the stormy middle section.
The Second Concerto of Brahms is aptly coupled with the Rhapsody of Bartók, the ?Hungarian? finale of the former leading naturally to the unformed but prodigious talent of early Bartók, then, in his op. 1, suggesting that he was taking over Liszt?s mantle. Ferenc Fricsay conducts both works, which were recorded in 1960 in Berlin, the Brahms with the Philharmonic, the Bartók with the Radio Symphony. The Brahms is magnificent, one of the best, and the Bartók needs just the sort of advocacy that Anda and Fricsay commit to it. However, the sound of both is rather thin and hard toned. Not as I had remembered either. A comparison with a Japanese transfer of the Brahms (DG POCG-6036) is more palatable, so is the Bartók on DG 427 410 (a two-CD set of Fricsay conducting Bartók). There?s not much in it, less than I had anticipated, but enough to make these latest transfers less agreeable than the earlier ones, the previous attempts being slightly warmer, albeit not to the degree I was expecting when I went in search of them, my ears having been surprised at the reproduction of the current pressings. As a pertinent solo encore is Liszt?s
(1966, Vienna): quite magical.
Of course, such a comparison of sound raises doubts as to how the other performances here might reproduce on LP or in a different CD transfer. However, heard on their own terms, as I have alluded, the reproduction is fine, even complementary to Anda?s musicianship. I did raise an eyebrow, though, at the way Schumann?s Piano Concerto crashes in, the close balance of the piano, and questioned whether dynamics would be more differentiated on the original LP. This recording, from 1963, the Berlin Philharmonic under Rafael Kubelík, is rather too brightly lit, which works against the music, and I gained little pleasure from it, for all the artistry on offer. Rather evaporated timbres can inform the Schumann trilogy included on the final disc?
(1966, Vienna) and the Fantasy in C and
(both 1963, Berlin)?although such things matter less with Anda unaccompanied, and the piano tone is more ingratiating in the 1963 recordings. All fine interpretations, though?of personality and insight.
Especially fine is the
, given without the posthumous Variations, in which Anda?s tempos are well judged, and his poise, romance, and examination are in satisfying accord. And it?s stimulating to have the opportunity to compare Anda?s 1963 account of
with one he made in 1943, also in Berlin. The sound is decent and, I?m pleased to report, expertly transferred, in that it is relatively full and is without lower frequency curdling; in other words, the priority hasn?t been to remove crackle at all costs. I salute Gernot von Schultzendorff (responsible for all the transfers here) for doing such a fine job with the older material chosen for this release; he has listened to what he has done! To what I have written above regarding Anda?s 1963 account of the
, this earlier one is more pliable, seems more soulful, and offers more spontaneity and demonstration: a young man?s performance.
Other ?historic? recordings in this Anda set include Franck?s
(1943, Amsterdam) with a truly lovely contribution from the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Eduard van Beinum; a rapt, really quite beautiful performance, the faster sections unforced, and the finale sparkling and witty: rather special. Also from 1943, in Berlin, is Chopin?s E-Minor Etude from op. 25, given rather too rhapsodic a rendition, somewhat shapeless; and there are two mazurkas that are somewhat literal, not elusive enough, although quite elegant. Finally, as far as this review is concerned, Liszt?s
(1942, Berlin), arranged by Busoni. Anda gives a refined account, one primarily musical but with underlying virtuosity.
FANFARE: Colin Anderson