P1421. LAZAR BERMAN: Rachmaninoff, Liszt, de Falla & Beethoven (the latter's Sonata #18 in E-flat, Op.31, #3). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1208, Live Performance, 30 Sept., 1954, Moscow. [The producer, Yves St Laurent, offers the caveat of some sound problems.] Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“The Russian pianist Lazar Berman was a virtuoso in the grandest of grand traditions. Long confined to the Soviet Union and its then communist satellite countries, he began his international career only in the mid-1970s, achieving extraordinary celebrity through performances of great power and command.
Berman continued his studies with Alexander Goldenweiser at the Central Children's music school - his concerto debut given with the Moscow Philharmonic when he was 10 - and then, from 1948 to 1953, at the Moscow Conservatory, where his postgraduate studies continued until 1957. At the time he entered the Queen Elizabeth international competition in Brussels in 1956, such events were star-studded: on that occasion the competitors included Vladimir Ashkenazy, John Browning and Cécile Ousset, and the jurors Arthur Rubinstein, Emil Gilels and Annie Fischer. Berman came fifth, and a European tour followed, including a 1958 London recital of Beethoven, Prokofiev and Liszt at the Royal Festival Hall.
Though Gilels had already described him as ‘the phenomenon of the musical world’, Berman was however then confined to the Soviet Union for 17 years from 1959, possibly because of his marriage to a French woman. None the less, his reputation was still able to grow through recordings on the Melodiya label. Once he was free to resume international touring in 1976, he took London, Paris, New York and the rest of the musical west by storm, appearing with such celebrated conductors as Karajan, Giulini, Abbado, Bernstein and Barenboim, and with orchestras such as the Berlin and the New York Philharmonics. Extravagantly billed as ‘the world's greatest living pianist’, he played to awe-struck audiences in programmes that often included the Liszt and Rachmaninov works known from the early recordings; new recordings included Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov's Third. And if his Liszt recordings rank among the most intimidating displays of physical bravura, they were also notably for an intense drama and romantic fervour.
From 1980, at the height of his success, he was beset by further travel restrictions after the discovery of banned American books in his luggage. In 1990, he left Moscow to teach in Norway and Italy, where he eventually settled.”
- Bryce Morrison, THE GUARDIAN, 13 Feb., 2005
“Lazar Berman, a Russian pianist with a huge, thunderous technique that made him a thrilling interpreter of Liszt and Rachmaninoff and a representative of the grand school of Russian Romantic pianism, had a gentle manner that seemed at odds with his often-muscular approach to the piano. His repertory, though, was broader than his reputation would suggest. It ran from Bach and Handel, through Mozart, Clementi and Beethoven, to Scriabin and Shostakovich. Although Mr. Berman was best known for the grandeur of his Liszt, Chopin, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff playing, he played Mozart and early Beethoven, for example, with a light touch that could surprise listeners who had typecast him as a firebrand. He also proved a supportive and deferential chamber music collaborator in recitals with his son, the violinist Pavel Berman, in the early 1990s.
Lazar Berman studied with Alexander Goldenweiser, a renowned Russian pianist who remained Mr. Berman's teacher at the Moscow Conservatory in the 1940s and 1950s.
Mr. Berman made his professional debut at age 10, playing a Mozart concerto with the Moscow Philharmonic. By the mid-1950s, he had won several competitions in the Soviet Union, as well as prizes at the Queen Elisabeth Competition and at the Franz Liszt competition. A European tour and a legendary recording of Liszt's Transcendental Études for the Melodiya label, in 1959, helped solidify his reputation as a virtuoso player. So did a glowing report from Emil Gilels, one of the greatest Russian pianists of the time, who called Mr. Berman ‘the phenomenon of the music world’. When Harold C. Schonberg, then the chief music critic of THE NEW YORK TIMES, heard Mr. Berman in Moscow in 1961, he wrote that the pianist had 20 fingers and breathed fire.
Soviet authorities, however, prevented Mr. Berman from traveling to the United States until 1976, when he was 45. When he made his New York debut, playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 with Lukas Foss and the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Schonberg wrote that ‘he may be that rarest of musicians - a real, true blue Romantic, one who understands the conventions and has the ability to put them into effect’. Still, Mr. Berman left the piano world deeply divided. Just as he was idolized by fans of titanic Romanticism, other listeners faulted him for perceived deficits in subtlety or stylistic variety. At any rate, his American career was short-lived. After a flurry of performances between 1976 and 1979, he was again prevented from touring by the Soviet authorities after American books were discovered in his luggage.
By the time he could travel again in 1990, Mr. Berman had largely tired of the concert stage, preferring to devote himself to teaching and to judging competitions, with occasional performances on his own or with his son. He moved to Florence in August 1990 and was granted Italian citizenship in 1994.”
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Feb., 2005