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Piano Sonata in B flat, Op. 106.
Sonata canonica sopra Capricci di Nicolò Paganini.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, 'Appassionata'
Maurice RAVEL
Gaspard de la nuit.
Nikita Magaloff (piano).
Orfeo C531001B [mono] [ADD] [66'55]

This live recital from the Salzburg Festival (given in the Mozarteum on August 7th, 1969) presents a marvellously varied programme and an opportunity to revel in some truly magnificent pianism. Magaloff, born in 1912, was a virtuoso of the old school, including amongst his teachers such luminaries as Alexander Ziloti (a Liszt pupil) and Isidor Philipp (who studied with a pupil of Chopin). Furthermore, Magaloff studied composition with Prokofiev and Ravel acted as a mentor, encouraging him to explore the music of his time. Perhaps best known now for his massive undertaking of recording the complete works of Chopin (thirteen discs, Philips 456 376-2), this Orfeo disc helps to expand the picture somewhat by including Dallapiccola's 1943 Sonata canonica as well as more familiar fare.

The Mendelssohn sonata is a lovely, assured piece, and Magaloff will not fail to delight. In particular, he gives the Scherzo a Midsummer Night's Dream lightness. His advocacy is never in doubt, and there is an energy continuously inherent in his playing that is completely apt. He understands Mendelssohn's musical processes seemingly instinctively. To play simply is one of the pianist's great challenges, and it is one to which Magaloff rises, superbly and delightfully.

Dallapiccola's Sonata canonica takes Paganini's violin Caprices as a starting point, dragging them into the twentieth century. Again, Magaloff's wit will win many friends for this piece (and maybe encourage further exploration into this fascination composer's output?). He actually uses a similar light touch to that used in the Mendelssohn, but here he can also be relentless and hard when need be.

The two final pieces are much more familiar territory. Magaloff's Appassionata is an impulsive, roller-coaster ride which must have had the audience on the edge of their seats at the time: they do not hold back their enthusiasm at the end. What handfuls of notes there are only reinforce the fact that this is a live event - they are not frequent enough to seriously distract the listener. Magaloff's ear for harmonic colour and - importantly - meaning is fascinating and breathtaking at the same time. The final movement is on the fast side, and what impresses most is Magaloff's tremendously strong right hand. The articulation is crystal clear.

Few composers would seem better suited to a colouristic approach than Ravel. Magaloff invokes the atmospheres in the most evocative of fashions (the tracery of Ondine is wonderfully delicate), but it is the virtuosity of Scarbo that lingers in the mind and places this version alongside the best (Pogorelich's studio account is always a good yard-stick in this piece: coupled with Prokofiev's Sixth Piano Sonata on DG 413 363-2).

This recital is required listening for all pianophiles. Magaloff's range and control of tone colour is astounding, his musicianship is never in doubt and his technical control is inspiring. The recording is excellent for its age.

Colin Clarke



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