Van Cliburn, Vol. I;   Andre Previn;  Jean Martinon   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-510)
Item# P1269
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Van Cliburn, Vol. I;   Andre Previn;  Jean Martinon   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-510)
P1269. VAN CLIBURN, w.Previn Cond. NYPO: Piano Concerto in a (Grieg), Live Performance, 29 Jan., 1976, Carnegie Hall; w.Martinon Cond. Chicago Orch.: Piano Concerto #1 in d (Brahms), Live Performance, 8 Feb., 1968, Orchestra Hall. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-510. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


"Van Cliburn, the American pianist whose first-place award at the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow made him an overnight sensation and propelled him to a phenomenally successful and lucrative career, clinched the gold medal in the inaugural year of the Tchaikovsky competition. The feat, in Moscow, was viewed as an American triumph over the Soviet Union at the height of the cold war. He became a cultural celebrity of pop-star dimensions and brought overdue attention to the musical assets of his native land. When Mr. Cliburn returned to New York he received a ticker-tape parade in Lower Manhattan, the first musician to be so honored, cheered by 100,000 people lining Broadway.

Even before his Moscow victory the Juilliard-trained Mr. Cliburn was a notable up-and-coming pianist. He won the Leventritt Foundation award in 1954, which earned him debuts with five major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic under Dimitri Mitropoulos. For that performance, at Carnegie Hall in November 1954, he performed the work that would become his signature piece, Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, garnering enthusiastic reviews and a contract with Columbia Artists.

The impact of Mr. Cliburn's victory was enhanced by a series of vivid articles written for THE NEW YORK TIMES by Max Frankel, then a foreign correspondent based in Moscow and later an executive editor of the paper. The reports of Mr. Cliburn's progress - prevailing during the early rounds, making it to the finals and becoming the darling of the Russian people, who embraced him in the streets and flooded him with fan mail and flowers - created intense anticipation as he entered the finals.

Mr. Cliburn was a naturally gifted pianist whose enormous hands had an uncommonly wide span. He developed a commanding technique, cultivated an exceptionally warm tone and manifested deep musical sensitivity. At its best his playing had a surging Romantic fervor, but one leavened by an unsentimental restraint that seemed peculiarly American. The towering Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, a juror for the competition, described Mr. Cliburn as a genius - a word, he added, 'I do not use lightly about performers'.

A $1,000 grant from the Martha Baird Rockefeller 'Aid to Music' program made the journey to the Soviet Union possible. The contestants' Moscow expenses were paid by the Soviet government. The Russian people warmed to Mr. Cliburn from the preliminary rounds. There was something endearing about the contrast between his gawky boyishness and his complete absorption while performing. At the piano he bent far back from the keys, staring into space, his head tilted in a kind of pained ecstasy. During rapid-fire passages he would lean in close, almost scowling at his fingers. On the night of the final round, when Mr. Cliburn performed the Tchaikovsky First Concerto, a solo work by Dmitry Kabalevsky (written as a test piece for the competition) and the Rachmaninoff Third Concerto, the audience broke into chants of 'First prize! First prize!'. Emil Gilels, one of the judges, went backstage to embrace him. The jury agreed with the public, and Moscow celebrated. At a Kremlin reception, Mr. Cliburn was bearhugged by Khrushchev. His prize consisted of 25,000 rubles (about $2,500), though he was permitted to take only half of that out of the country. Immediately, concert offers for enormous fees engulfed him.

Mr. Cliburn leaves a lasting if not extensive discography. One recording in particular, his performance of the Rachmaninoff Third Concerto recorded live at Carnegie Hall on the night of his post-Tchaikovsky competition concert, was praised by Mr. Schonberg, the critic, for its technical strength, musical poise, and 'manly lyricism unmarred by eccentricity'. Mr. Schonberg then added, prophetically, 'No matter what Cliburn eventually goes on to do this will be one of the great spots of his career; and if for some reason he fails to fulfill his potentialities, he will always have this to look back upon'."

- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 27 Feb., 2013

“In the words of one of his biographers, conductor Jean Martinon's performances ‘were distinguished by a concern for translucent orchestral textures, and sustained by a subtle sense of rhythm and phrasing’. Occasionally, ‘he stressed a poetic inflection at the expense of literal accuracy’.

Martinon's first instrument was the violin; he studied at the Lyons Conservatory (1924-1925), then transferred to the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prize in violin upon his graduation in 1928. He subsequently studied composition, with Albert Roussel, and conducting, with Charles Münch and Roger Desormière. Until the outbreak of World War II, Martinon was primarily a composer. His early substantial works include a Symphoniette for piano, percussion, and strings (1935); Symphony #1 (1936); Concerto giocoso for violin and orchestra (1937); and a wind quintet (1938). At the start of the war he was drafted into the French army. Taken prisoner in 1940, he passed the next two years in a Nazi labor camp. There, he wrote’ Stalag IX’ (Musique d'exil), an orchestral piece incorporating elements of jazz; during his internment, he also composed several religious works, including ’Absolve’, ‘Domine’ for male chorus and orchestra, and ‘Psalm 136’ (Chant des captifs), the latter receiving a composition prize from the city of Paris in 1946.

Upon his release from the Nazi camp, Martinon became conductor of the Bordeaux Symphony Orchestra (from 1943 to 1945) and assistant conductor of the Paris Conservatory Orchestra (from 1944 to 1946), then associate conductor of the London Philharmonic (from 1947 to 1949). He toured as a guest conductor as well, although his U.S. début did not come until 1957, with the Boston Symphony giving the American premiere of his Symphony #2. Although he devoted as much time as he could to composing in the early postwar years -- producing a string quartet (1946), an ‘Irish’ Symphony (1948), the ballet ‘Ambohimang’a (1946), and the opera HÉCUBE (1949-1954) -- he was increasingly occupied with conducting, working with the Concerts Lamoureux (from 1951 to 1957), the Israel Philharmonic (from 1957 to 1959), and Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra (from 1960 to 1966). Martinon resumed his career as a composer around 1960, writing his Violin Concerto #2 (1960) for Henryk Szeryng, his Cello Concerto (1964) for Pierre Fournier, and his Symphony #4 (‘Altitudes’), composed in 1965, for the 75th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony. He acknowledged Prokofiev and Bartók as strong influences on his scores, which meld Expressionism with French Neoclassicism. Martinon continued composing into the 1970s, but he seldom recorded any of his own music, with the notable exceptions of the Second Symphony, ‘Hymne à la vie’ (ORTF, for Barclay Inedits) and Fourth Symphony, ‘Altitudes"’ (Chicago SO, for RCA).

In 1963, he succeeded Fritz Reiner as head of the Chicago Symphony. Martinon's tenure there was difficult. In five seasons, he conducted 60 works by modern European and American composers, and made a number of outstanding LPs for RCA, mostly of bracing twentieth century repertory in audiophile sound. Chicago's conservative music lovers soon sent him packing.

Martinon jumped at the chance to take over the French National Radio Orchestra in 1968; working with this ensemble, he recorded almost the entire standard French repertory for Erato and EMI. His earlier Erato efforts that focused on such secondary but nevertheless interesting figures as Roussel, Pierné, and Dukas, whereas EMI assigned him integral sets of the Saint-Saëns symphonies and the orchestral works of Debussy and Ravel, among other projects. In 1974, he was appointed principal conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, but he died before that relationship could bear much fruit.”

- James Reel,

“André Previn, who blurred the boundaries between jazz, pop and classical music, wrote or arranged the music for several dozen movies and was the only person in the history of the Academy Awards to receive three nominations in one year (1961, for the scores for ELMER GANTRY and BELLS ARE RINGING and the song ‘Faraway Part of Town’ from the comedy PEPE. But audiences also knew him as a jazz pianist who appeared with Ella Fitzgerald, among others, and as a composer who turned out musicals, orchestral works, chamber music, two operas and several concertos for his fifth wife, the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. Mr. Previn was also the music director or principal conductor of a half-dozen orchestras.

Mr. Previn himself considered Bernstein an idol. ‘Bernstein has made it possible not to specialize in one area of music’, he said. ‘You no longer have to do just Broadway shows, or movies, or conduct - you can do any or all of them’. And Mr. Previn did. In the 1960s he appeared in sold-out classical and jazz concerts. Sometimes he combined genres, playing a concerto before intermission and jazz with a trio after. Dizzy Gillespie marveled at his performances: ‘He has the flow, you know, which a lot of guys don’t have and won’t ever get’.

Mr. Previn - born Andreas Ludwig Prewin on April 6, 1929, in Berlin - entered in the Berlin Conservatory when he was 6, after his parents realized that he had perfect pitch. His father, Jacob, a Polish-born lawyer who was Jewish and had been an amateur pianist in Berlin, moved the family to Paris in 1938 to escape the Nazis. André studied with Marcel Dupré at the Paris Conservatory for about a year before the family left for Los Angeles. There, Mr. Previn studied with the composer and conductor Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, the violinist and composer Joseph Achron and the composer Ernst Toch. He soon recorded all the four-hand piano music of Mozart with the composer Lukas Foss, who was not quite seven years older than he was. Mr. Previn became an American citizen in 1943, and in 1950 he was drafted into the Army and served with the Sixth Army Band. He also studied conducting in San Francisco with Pierre Monteux, whom he later followed at the London Symphony.

A relative worked in the music department at Universal Studios, and Mr. Previn wrote music for movies even before he went into the Army. As a senior in high school, he was called in to help with HOLIDAY IN MEXICO, an MGM musical that starred Walter Pidgeon and in which Fidel Castro was an ‘extra’. The script called for the concert pianist Jose Iturbi to play some jazz, but he was uncomfortable improvising and wanted a score to read. Mr. Previn went to a jam session, listened and wrote out a piano part for Mr. Iturbi to play when the cameras rolled. MGM took notice and hired Mr. Previn to compose and conduct the music for THE SUN COMES UP, starring Lassie and the once-illustrious actress Jeanette MacDonald, who was allergic to dogs. ‘Go figure that billing’, he once said.

Years after its premiere in 1949, he gave the movie a thumbs-down: ‘Like all Lassie pictures, there was hardly any dialogue, but a lot of barking. I thought it was easy, but I have since put myself through the wringer of watching it on a television rerun, and it’s the most inept score you ever heard’. But front-office executives realized that Mr. Previn could handle the deadlines that went with studio work, and they put him on what he called ‘an endless stream of cheap, fast movies’. Not all his assignments fit that description. He collected Oscars for scoring GIGI (1959), PORGY AND BESS (1960), IRMA LA DOUCE (1964) and MY FAIR LADY (1965). He arranged and orchestrated them, creating the versions heard on the soundtracks. Like Bernstein, he also tried Broadway. With Allan Jay Lerner, he wrote COCO, a musical about the designer Coco Chanel that starred Katharine Hepburn and ran for 329 performances in 1969 and 1970. He also wrote the music for THE GOOD COMPANIONS, a musical with lyrics by Johnny Mercer that ran for 252 performances in London in 1974.

Also like Bernstein, he was a crowd-pleaser as a conductor. Five years after his surprise appointment in London, the British magazine NEW STATESMAN complained that he had given the orchestra ‘a strong American accent: the big-screen sound, rich, loud and brilliant’. But it said his programs on the BBC - which prefigured by a few years the American public-television series ‘Previn and the Pittsburgh’, broadcast when he was the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony - had ‘clearly widened his box-office appeal’. ‘Whereas Boulez looks boring and Boult looks bored’, the magazine said, referring to the prominent conductors Pierre Boulez and Adrian Boult, ‘Previn always seems to be enjoying himself’. He remained principal conductor of the London Symphony until 1979 and was also the principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 to 1988. In the United States, he held the Pittsburgh job from 1976 to 1984 and became music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1985.

As he approached 70, Mr. Previn turned to opera, writing A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE to a libretto by Philip Littell based on the Tennessee Williams play. Renée Fleming sang the role of Blanche DuBois in the premiere with the San Francisco Opera in 1998, with Mr. Previn on the podium. Bernard Holland, reviewing the performance for THE NEW YORK TIMES, wrote that ‘it sings very well’. ‘There are angry clashes of harmony and key, many Straussian gestures, sweet-as-honey popular melody and the kinds of corporate noodling and mumbling among the strings native to a Ligeti or a Penderecki’, Mr. Holland said. A recording with the San Francisco cast won the Grand Prix du Disque. Mr. Previn also won a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2010. He also won 10 competitive Grammys between 1958 and 2004, divided evenly between classical and nonclassical categories. His other opera was BRIEF ENCOUNTER (2007), with a libretto by John Caird based on Noël Coward’s screenplay for the 1945 David Lean film by that name.

In 2017, Ms. Fleming gave several performances of a song cycle he wrote, ‘Lyrical Yeats’. ‘These brief songs display Mr. Previn’s keen ear for the telling detail, for musical gestures that set a mood or conjure an image’, Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim wrote in THE TIMES when Ms. Fleming sang them in a solo recital at Carnegie Hall recital. In 2018, Ms. Mutter played ‘The Fifth Season’, which she and Carnegie Hall had commissioned. She described it as ‘rather lighthearted’. ‘The Fifth Season’ was ‘not a sonata’, she said, ‘but a one-movement work with jazz and Gypsy-like rhythmical elements - which starts with a fully improvisational cadenza’.

This year, Tanglewood had planned several events to celebrate Mr. Previn after he turned 90, including a performance with Ms. Mutter of the violin concerto and, with Ms. Fleming and the Emerson quartet, the premiere of ‘Penelope’, by Mr. Previn and the playwright Tom Stoppard.

Mr. Previn wrote several books, including ORCHESTRA (1979), a depiction of the lives of orchestral musicians, and a memoir of his movie experiences, NO MINOR CHORDS: MY DAYS IN HOLLYWOOD (1991).

‘When I go to Tanglewood to teach, the kids don’t know I ever did anything else. Sometimes they see a movie on the late, late show, and they say, ‘Who is that?’ And then I have to confess that the man who manufactured harp glissandos for Esther Williams to dive to was actually me’.”

- James Barron, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 28 Feb., 2019