P0792. ALFRED CORTOT: Purcell, Bach, Mendelssohn, Franck & Saint-Saëns. (Germany) Naxos 8.111381, recorded 1929-37. Transfers by Ward Marston. - 747313338122
“This is a laudably programmed disc that holds at its heart Cortot’s magnificent readings of Franck. The PRÉLUDE, CHORAL ET FUGE is Cortot’s only recording of this score, and in it he reveals all of the music’s plangency. The recording has been available on CD previously on several labels, but its appearance here is to be welcomed. Cortot’s timbral sensitivity allied to his fine structural grasp make for a masterly reading. The rolled chords of the Chorale possess a contained grandeur, and such is Cortot’s grasp that the fugue subject steals in as a most magnificent conceit….Saint-Saëns’ ETUDE EN FORME DE VALSE concludes the disc: a suave, glittering invocation of a carefree ball….Ward Marston is the transfer engineer, and he appears to have rendered Cortot’s piano sound faithfully.”
- Colin Clarke, CLASSICAL RECORDINGS QUARTERLY, Winter, 2010
“… Cortot’s teacher was Louis Diémer, one of Chopin's last pupils and supposed one of his favourites. This means Cortot is in fact the grandson of the Chopin technique, learning from one who was directly instructed how to play these works. Beyond that, he is one of the most remarkable pianists of his or any time, often criticized for an overextensive rubato, but this is the essence of Cortot. He may be the most informed pianist of all time, not only dissecting the notes on the page, but the mind of the composer and life at the time that each composition was invented.
Any enthusiast of Chopin must listen to these recordings with an open mind. At first you will shun them, unaccustomed to the way the pieces differ from today, but soon they will grow on you and you hear each piece as if for the first time, and you realize how far off our modern pianists are from the truth of the music. Most are more technically perfect than Cortot, (he was often missing or hitting wrong notes), but the emotion behind those notes is what is the real importance of the music, something lost in today’s pianists. Someone once said hewould rather hear a good pianist’s wrong notes than a bad pianist’s right ones. And I cannot think of a more perfect personification of that comment than Cortot. In my mind he ranks as one of the top six pianists of the recording era, along with Hofmann, Richter, Horowitz, Gilels, and Moiséiwitsch. But honestly, I find more enjoyment listening to Cortot than any other single pianist on record….”
- Charles R. Hall Jr, 16 Oct., 2004
“Alfred Denis Cortot studied at the Paris Conservatory with Decambes and others, winning first prize in piano in 1896. He made his début the same year in Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. Soon he became widely acclaimed as a performer of Beethoven concerti, appearing as a soloist in two prominent Parisian concert series. In 1898 he went to Bayreuth to study Wagner's music and was hired as a choral coach and then as an assistant conductor. Cortot brought Wagner to Paris, leading the first Paris performance of GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG (May 1902), and a remarkable performance of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE the next month. Also in 1902 he established his own concert series, the Association des Concerts A. Cortot. Although it lasted only two years, it did much towards breaking down the conservative French resistance to Wagner, particularly with a concert performance of PARSIFAL, and even the first French performances of Beethoven's MISSA SOLEMNIS and Brahms' REQUIEM. He also served contemporary French music by premiering works of Roussel, Magnard, and others.
In 1904 he became the conductor of the Concerts Populaires at Lille, and the following year he joined with cellist Pablo Casals and violinist Jacques Thibaud to form one of the greatest of permanently established piano trios, one which became a model of its type, touring frequently. This drew him back to the piano, which he had never given up despite his fame as a conductor. In 1907 he joined the faculty of the Paris Conservatory, teaching piano, but remained very active as a piano soloist and chamber music player. He gave up that position in 1917, feeling that his busy concert schedule had made it impossible to devote sufficient uninterrupted periods to teaching. In 1919 he founded the École Normale de Musique, assembling a faculty of famous musicians. As the director, he taught a summer course in interpretation, which became famous. He continued a career performing piano around the world, including lecture recitals, and also guest conducted many orchestras. He also continued to premiere new French piano music. Cortot was a skillful and scholarly editor of great piano music, famous for his editions of most of Chopin's piano music. Cortot's teacher was a student of Chopin, and the grace of his Chopin performances, especially, remains breathtaking and should be recommended to all students of the piano; he also had a remarkable way with the music of Robert Schumann.
In 1943 Cortot founded the Chamber Music Society of the Paris Conservatory Concerts. However, his admiration for German culture served him ill when Germany occupied France between from 1940 to 1944, and he appeared to cooperate with them willingly. This led to his being shunned after the war both in France and elsewhere. By the time he returned to the concert stage, some years later, it was clear that his memory was failing; his main legacy remains in the records he made in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition, he was an avid collector and amassed, among other items, a large quantity of autograph scores and printed music. After his death, this collection was divided among several important libraries and universities; it remains an interesting view into the mind of a musician who was both a living link to Romantic Paris and a key figure of the twentieth century.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com