P1323. GYÖRGY CZIFFRA, w.Carlo Maria Giulini Cond. RTF S.O.: Piano Concerto #1 in b-flat (Tschaikowsky), Live Performance, 11 April, 1957; w.Georges Cziffra, Jr. Cond. ORTF S.O.: Piano Concerto #1 in e (Chopin), Live Performance, 9 Dec., 1966. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-833. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“This disc contains two remarkable live performances of standard repertoire piano concertos by Tchaikovsky and Chopin….The combination of Cziffra and Carlo Maria Giulini in the Tchaikovsky concerto seemed unusual when I first saw it, and in a way it is. The pianist in 1957 tended toward fire-breathing virtuosity and the conductor more toward introspection, lyricism, and elegance. In this performance they meet in the middle and come up with a memorable reading. At 31:50 it is among the fastest accounts I know of, though not as quick as Horowitz and Toscanini. But whereas most performances that feature speed tend to also feature power and thrust, Cziffra and Giulini keep things light and lyrical. Rather than pounding out octaves, Cziffra employs a lighter touch even at breakneck speeds. The effect is remarkable and is possible only from a supreme technician.
Pianist and conductor seem to communicate on a very high musical level too, phrasing and inflecting together and employing a considerable amount of rubato. Cziffra’s tone is unfailingly lovely, never harsh. One does get a sense, at the end of the first movement, that Giulini and the orchestra are struggling just a bit to keep up with him, but this only adds to the excitement. The whole performance is unlike any other that I’ve encountered in its blend of contrasting elements.
The Chopin First Piano Concerto under György Cziffra, Jr. is not quite as unusual but is still memorably beautiful. The same combination of virtuosity and poetry is present, but the same qualities are more commonly found in Chopin’s piano concertos than in the Tchaikovsky. Still, the fluidity of Cziffra’s playing is unusually beautiful, and he and his son are clearly on the same wavelength. The passagework in the first movement is remarkably even and clear - every note sounds with just the right weight no matter how fast the fingers are moving. This performance is a vivid reminder of Chopin’s adoration of the operatic writing of Bellini as Cziffra turns phrases with a genuine bel canto sensibility. He also applies rubato in the way you might expect from Maria Callas at her best. When the main tune of the first movement enters on the piano, it is so beautifully molded that it takes one’s breath away.
The monaural sound of the 1957 broadcast is a touch muddy, lacking clarity in the orchestral sound picture. Anyone, however, with a tolerance for good radio broadcast sound from the 1950s will not find it objectionable. The 1966 broadcast is much cleaner and more open. St. Laurent Studio has done their usual fine job of transferring the material, and as usual provides documentation and track listings but no notes.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE