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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fantasie in C minor, K396 (1782) [7:42]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Davidsbündlertãnze, Op.6 (1837) [30:16]
Kinderszenen, Op.15 (1838) [15:50]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Klavierstücke, D946 (1828) [19:33]
Rudolf Firkušný (piano)
rec. 1957-64, Ludwigsburg and Baden-Baden, radio studio recordings
MELOCLASSIC MC1032 [73:22]

Is anyone else waiting for a systematic look at Rudolf Firkusny’s discography? He tended to be overlooked during the first half of his American career when he was somewhat downplayed as refined and urbane and other critical epithets that didn’t necessarily survive deeper scrutiny. He recorded reasonably often, and was in demand as an elite sonata partner to such as William Primrose, Erica Morini, Fournier and Starker. His audio legacy is rather bitty and I’m not sure, given that he recorded for several companies, whether the kind of boxed set others have enjoyed will be coming his way. Recently it’s his late, Prague-made recordings that have occupied the most interest; the recital with Josef Suk, the Martinů LPs, as well as the earlier DG Janáček disc. It’s good to be reminded of him between the years 1957 and 1964 when he was touring Germany and recording for radio stations in Baden-Baden and Ludwigsburg.

That said these pieces are largely an amplification of – and not a novel addition to – his existing studio discography. Mozart’s Fantasie in C minor was recorded for a Columbia LP and this September 1957 performance doesn’t detour too far from it interpretatively speaking. It’s strongly conceived throughout and though the recorded sound is a touch shallow – this is the only Ludwigsburg recording and is also the earliest to be preserved – it barely hinders appreciation of Firkusny’s pianism. He made an LP recording of the Davidsbündlertänze in New York for EMI in 1955. In Baden-Baden too (January 1960) he is unafraid to indulge rubati nor of some ebullient characterisation. Even though the playing can be stormy it is almost always controlled by musical intelligence, and his voicings are invariably engagingly communicative. Above all the performance is full of pointing and variety.

He recorded Kinderszenen in New York in 1959 so this 1964 broadcast performance post-dates it by a good five years. Here his rubati are somewhat free and some of the phrasing can be over-crisp but the performance is again definably the work of an expressive exponent whose refusal to linger in the most obvious places offers a suitable rejoinder to more indulgent practitioners. He is quite fleet – so beware the mis-timing for the penultimate movement, Kind im Einschlummern, which doesn’t last all of 3:47. He ends quite amiably - of a piece with the performance as a whole.

There’s a Sugano disc that preserves the Schubert Klavierstücke, D946 and BBC Legends put out its own recording of the Czech pianist’s 1980 Queen Hall Recital on BBCL4238-2. The Baden-Baden recital of 1961 offers a winning example of far greater rhythmic vitality than in the later BBC performance. His characteristic ‘grabbing’ at phrases, which was perfectly deliberate and invested the music with a great sense of momentum – partly I suppose a legacy of Schnabel’s teaching – is apparent here. In the Allegretto it’s very obvious how much more lilting is his rhythm than it was to become two decades later. The sense of freshness and immediacy survives unimpaired in 1961 whereas it was much more compromised later on.

This is a commendable reclamation, well annotated and produced. It doesn’t startle through unexpected interpretative insights but does offer mature musicality throughout.

Jonathan Woolf



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