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Premier Pianists - Volume 1
Video 4:3, B&W and Colour, Region Code 0/NTSC Audio: Mono/Stereo. Subtitles None,
VAI DVD 4596 [76 mins]

Premier Pianists - Volume 2
Video 4:3, B&W and Colour, Region Code 0/NTSC Audio: Mono/Stereo. Subtitles None, Running Time 75:00
VAI DVD 4597 [75 mins]

The single page that comes with each volume gives details of works played and the dates of recording but otherwise documentation is of the hair-shirt variety. The reverse of the page offers tempting items from VAI’s extensive catalogue of DVDs and CDs. I assume all the filmed performances in these volumes have been issued before by the firm and by others so these compilations stand as useful objects in their own right and also as tasters for the riches to be found elsewhere.

Tureck is seen in a washed-out performance of three movements from the Goldberg Variations from St Petersburg as recently as 1995. Seen largely from a distance – her score is on single pages, I assume a variation to a page – it seems somewhat sacrilegious to jump from the Aria to variations 29 and 30 but that’s what happens. Lili Kraus plays two movements from Mozart’s Sonata in A major, K331, the one with the alla turca. From a black and white but very clear 1961 Canadian telecast Kraus is seen in elegant lace over a black top. She plays with marvelous spirit and it’s hard to think of anyone of her generation who was so vital and communicative a Mozartian at the keyboard. Kempff is seen in a cloudier picture from 1964, from the same source, but with a more mobile camera, playing the first movement of the Hammerklavier. The Serkins, père et fils, conjoin in Schubert March militaire in G major in colour in 1988. Rudolf pump-pump-pumps secundo whilst Peter ripples away primo. Gilels in Moscow in 1978 is in just-about-tolerable vision playing Chopin and Argerich, the year before, in a darker studio but in better vision is iridescent in Ravel’s Jeux d’eau. Ciccolini’s Debussy is rather grainy picture-wise whilst Richter’s Prokofiev – two movements from the Second Sonata – are starkly filmed to monolithic-granitic effect, shot from the pianist’s left and also from a height downwards to the keyboard. With the orchestra watching and flash cameras poised, van Cliburn strides through Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.12 at a famous Moscow concert encore. Don’t omit the ‘bonus’ feature – I never really understand why they’re called bonuses – of Landowska playing the harpsichord. The picture is grainy but it’s of real historical value to see her.

The second volume mixes some more well-known examples. Rubinstein starts off with Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat major, the same piece Gilels played in volume one. This 1950 film is very familiar, shot on a stagey set but with a good overhead shot of the keyboard. Alicia de Larrocha’s 1967 Bell Telephone Hour telecast of Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance is excitingly vibrant and in matching colour. Gilels’ Moscow encore is Schumann’s Arabesque and Tureck is back in much better visual order this time, principally because she was filmed in Buenos Aires in 1992 playing Mendelssohn and Schubert. Mouth agape, Murray Perahia plays Schubert’s Impromptu in A flat major very thoughtfully in 1988, but the 1967 telecast of Robert Casadesus playing the finale of Chopin’s B minor sonata is quixotic to say the least. Starting from shots from the wings the camera moves to look at him face-on, only reluctantly going overhead to capture the keyboard. Richter, dry and shrouded in Brahms, is seen in black and white but Michelangeli is shot in colour in Beethoven – good clear direction of a most expressive performance. He plays an early sonata but Arrau plays the opening movement of Op.111, in an Old School black and white presentation, somewhat grainy. The Moscow orchestra is clearly intrigued and engaged by Cliburn’s Rachmaninoff encore – you don’t normally get this level of scrutiny from the string players. Finally, there is more Argerich, from the same concert as volume one, a tremendous Funérailles.

Clearly given their age and the circumstances of recording, these performances are very variable in terms of image preservation, clarity, sound quality and colour. Many of the examples are well-known but a few may not be. There have been other Great Pianist compilations over the years and there is still a market for such material despite YouTube and specialist websites – Meloclcassic, for example, has a raft of exceptional things on its Facebook page that hardly anyone will have seen before. That said, if it’s DVDs you want, these are of interest and neither volume is demonstrably superior to the other.

Jonathan Woolf

Premier Pianists Volume 1
Three movements from Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988
1. Aria (5:13) 2. Var. 29 (1:44) 3. Var. 30 (1:55)
4. - 5. Two movements from Mozart: Sonata in A Major, K. 331
II. Menuetto and Trio (3:15) III. Rondo alla turca (Turkish March) (3:02)
6. Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106, Hammerklavier
1st movement, Allegro (8:50)
7. Schubert: March in G Major from 3 Marches militaries, D. 733 (4:30)
8. Chopin: Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 “Heroic” (7:00)
9. Ravel: Jeux d’eau (4:37)
Debussy: Two movements from Suite Bergamasque
10. Claire de lune (5:25) 11. Passepied (3:25)
Prokofiev: Two movements from Piano Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 14
12. III. Andante (5:42) 13. IV. Vivace (4:23)
14. Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp Minor, S.214 (10:00)
Bonus: Video footage of Wanda Landowska playing the harpsichord. Works by Francisque, Vivaldi, and Bach (3:52)

Premier Pianists Volume 2
1. Chopin: Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53 “Heroic” (6:43)
Alicia de Larrocha
2. de Falla: “Ritual Fire Dance” from El amor brujo (3:48)
3. Schumann: Arabesque, Op. 18 (7:00)
4. Mendelssohn: Songs Without Words - “Sweet Remembrances,” Op. 19, No. 1 (4:11)
5. Schubert: Moments musicaux, Op. 94, No. 3 in F Minor (1:56)
6. Schubert: Impromptu in A-flat Major, Op. 90, No. 4 (6:50)
7. Chopin: Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58 – IV. Finale: Presto non tanto (5:15)
8. Brahms: Intermezzo in E Minor, Op. 116, No. 5 (3:36)
9. Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2, No. 3
1st movement, Allegro con brio (11:12)
10. Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
1st movement, Maestoso - Allegro con brio ed appassionato (9:00)
11. Rachmaninoff: Prelude in E-flat Major, Op. 23, No. 6 (3:35)
12. Liszt: Funérailles (9:34)



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