C1203. HANS KNAPPERTSBUSCH Cond. Vienna Phil: Tragic Overture; w. CLIFFORD CURZON: Piano Concerto #2 in B-flat (both Brahms), Live Performance, 26 July, 1955, Salzburg. (Germany) Archipel 0222. Final copies. - 4035122402223
"Sir Clifford Curzon, the world-renowned British pianist, was an immensely popular musical figure in Britain. Sir Clifford was knighted in 1977, recognition of a musical lifetime that made him, in the words of a tribute yesterday by the music critic of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH in London, 'the leading British pianist of his generation'. And as early as 1947, Noel Strauss of THE NEW YORK TIMES said that 'Curzon must be reckoned among the greatest keyboard artists of the time'.
Clifford Curzon made his debut in the United States with a recital at Town Hall in New York City on Feb. 26, 1939. THE NEW YORK TIMES critic said that the performance established the 31-year-old pianist as 'an artist of prime importance, a supreme colorist with an impeccable virtuoso technique'. On that same first tour, he played three concertos with the New York Philharmonic under Alexander Smallens at Carnegie Hall, and THE TIMES hailed Mr. Curzon for his 'superior musicianship, polished technique and sure grasp of style'.
One of Sir Clifford's last appearances in the United States was with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy on May 2, 1978. Harold C. Schonberg, then chief music critic of THE NEW YORK TIMES, wrote of the pianist's performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto #24 in c minor: 'The performance had logic, strength and integrity. The strength was manifest not in outsized dynamics but in the way a phrase uncoiled, inevitably finding its way into the total structure of the piece. This kind of tensile strength, so necessary in Mozart, is the secret of only a few living musicians'.
Sir Clifford's repertory was both broad and eclectic. It included more than 50 concertos and ranged from early classics to contemporary works. While critics may have differed over his uniform command of this vast body of music, they generally agreed that few artists could match him in total performance and in the superbly high level of artistry he offered his listeners. Among his most enthusiastic American fans was Virgil Thomson, the composer and the longtime music critic of THE NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE. Mr. Thomson considered Mr. Curzon 'the most satisfactory interpreter' of the piano's Romantic repertory, and he once wrote that 'certainly no one brings to life Schubert and Schumann with quite the delicacy and the grandeur of Mr. Curzon'. And remarking on Mr. Curzon's performance of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell in February 1950, Mr. Thomson wrote that the pianist's 'tender grace and grand perspective of expression all made his rendering both a message and a monument'.
Olin Downs, the late music critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES, wrote many laudatory notices of Mr. Curzon's performances, but he summed up his appreciation of his artistry in a review of a recital featuring the works of Mozart, Schubert and Schumann in Town Hall in January 1950: 'He is indeed a musician among musicians, whose sense of style is partly the result of his exceptional knowledge of his art, but is more the result of that intuition which far surpasses in its penetrating truthfulness any book learning or wise exercises that a healthy mind needs'.
Mr. Curzon was born in London on May 18, 1907, the son of Michael Curzon, an antiques dealer, and the former Constance Young. Neither of them was a musician but both were music lovers and young Clifford began the serious study of the piano when he was 6 years old, after abandoning the violin. He chose the piano, he said later, 'because you can be alone with a piano'. The prodigiously talented student went on to train with Britain's leading teachers and later with the world's greatest masters, Artur Schnabel in Berlin and Wanda Landowska and Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He entered the Royal Academy of Music in London at the age of 12 and established himself as a star pupil by winning two scholarships and virtually all the prizes open to pianists. He made his first public appearance in London when he was 16, soon began teaching at the Royal Academy and was a full professor at 19. Mr. Curzon suspended his career as a concert artist in 1928 to study with Artur Schnabel in Berlin. While there, he met Lucille Wallace, a harpsichord student from Chicago. They were married in Paris in July 1931, and they often played duets and discussed the relative merits of the piano and the harpsichord in recital halls and on BBC programs. Mrs. Curzon died in 1977.
Mr. Curzon toured the Continent with leading European orchestras in the 1930s and appeared at many British music festivals. After his debut in Town Hall in 1939, Mr. Curzon returned to the United States in 1948 and performed here frequently until 1970, both in recitals and under such conductors as Bruno Walter, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy and Mr. Smallens."
- Walter H. Waggoner, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 Sept., 1982
"Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned and beloved conductors of the German Romantic repertoire in the middle twentieth century. He spent several summers as an assistant to director Siegfried Wagner and conductor Hans Richter at the Bayreuth Festival and took part in the Netherlands Wagner Festivals in 1913 and 1914. After the end of World War I Knappertsbusch worked in Dessau and Leipzig, and in 1922 he was asked to succeed Bruno Walter as music director of the Munich Opera.
Knappertsbusch's personality was easygoing; he was notably free of the restlessness and undue ambition that often attended a rising career such as his. He was content mainly to stay in Munich, with the result that he never became as well-known as many of his colleagues. In any case, Munich fully appreciated Knappertsbusch's talents, and he was named conductor for life. However, he refused several demands made by the Nazis and was fired from his lifetime post in 1936. He conducted a memorable SALOME in Covent Garden in 1936 and 1937, and made some guest appearances elsewhere in Germany, but was content to maintain a low profile during the Nazi regime. He left Germany after the Munich debacle, settling in Vienna where he frequently conducted the Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera. Knappertsbusch's career was again affected by the Nazis when Germany took over Austria over in 1938, but he was mostly able to steer clear of trouble.
Knappertsbusch gained a reputation for broad, magisterial performances of Bruckner, and more and more seemed to emerge as the representative of the traditional style of unhurried Wagner performances. He was famous for disliking rehearsals, often cutting them short; his orchestral players maintained that this was not the result of laziness, but of complete security in his interpretation and trust of the players. His performances were therefore not rigidly preconceived, but instead had a remarkable freshness and spontaneity.
When the Bayreuth Festival reopened in 1951, Knappertsbusch worked closely with Wieland Wagner on orchestral matters (though the conductor was known to dislike the director's spare, revolutionary stage productions). Perhaps Knappertsbusch's most notable recording is his stereo account of Wagner's PARSIFAL from the Bayreuth stage."
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com
“After an early career in provincial opera companies, Knappertsbusch succeeded Bruno Walter as conductor of the Munich Opera in 1922. Although he was fervently nationalistic and conservative, Hitler considered Knappertsbusch inept both as an opera manager and as an operatic conductor and in 1936 prohibited him from conducting anywhere in Germany. After several years as conductor at the Vienna Opera and the Salzburg Festival, he and Nazi-party authorities were reconciled. Hitler dismissed him as a ‘military bandleader’ but permitted him to conduct several times at the Nuremberg party rallies and at the celebration of his birthday. Knappertsbusch also conducted in occupied countries, once in Cracow at the invitation of the notorious Hans Frank, Governor of the rump state of Poland. After the war Knappertsbusch returned to Munich. He was known for his interpretations of Wagner and Bruckner and was a leading conductor at Bayreuth between 1951 and 1964, famed for his PARSIFAL performances.”
- Frederic Spotts, Great Conductors of the Third Reich