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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 [30:45]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Night on Bald Mountain (arr. Rimsky Korsakov) [11:22]
Bruce Hungerford (piano), Staatskapelle Berlin / Boris Khaikin
rec. live, 12 January 1964 as part of the Das Meisterwerk series at the Grosser Sendesaal of the Berliner Rundfunk
NTSC, Video region: O; Black and White
KASP RECORDS 57791 DVD [53:16]

Leonard Sinclair Hungerford was born in Korumburra, Victoria, Australia on 24 November 1922. He later changed his name to Bruce. After studying for a short spell with Ignaz Friedman in Sydney, he relocated to the Juilliard School of Music in New York. He also spent time with Carl Friedberg and Dame Myra Hess. He eventually became a leading interpreter of Beethoven. In addition to his concert career, he was a keen palaeontologist and Egyptologist. In fact, it was on a return journey from a lecture on Egypt he had just given at Rockefeller University on 26 January 1977 that he was involved in a fatal  head-on collision with a drunk driver in the Bronx. His mother, niece and her husband, fellow passengers, succumbed also.  He'd begun to record a complete cycle of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas in the 1960s, which remained incomplete at the time of his death; he'd set down twenty-two of the thirty-two sonatas.

Until very recently no film footage of the pianist was known to exist. Then, a year ago, a short extract of this televised concert in black and white appeared on the internet. Donald Isler, proprietor of Kasp Records, himself a former student of Hungerford was thrilled to see his teacher in action again. Anyway, the results of some backstage manoeuvring and the generous cooperation of Donald Manildi of The International Piano Archives at the University of Maryland have resulted in the publication of this valuable visual document, billed as the "Only Known Concert Video of the Pianist". It was recorded live in East Germany on 12 January 1964. The other work in the concert, Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, comes as a bonus. The orchestra is the Staatskapelle Berlin and the conductor in the Russian born Boris Khaikin (1904-1978).

Never having seen Hungerford in action before, I got some surprises. He appears to be a big man with large hands. He has, what I can only describe as, a big-boned technique. As I was watching him, Yves Nat sprang to mind. His approach is no-nonsense, and he eschews all form of romantic excess. There was one slight irritation. Every time he comes to the end of a section he has a habit of bringing his hands off the keyboard with a dramatic, flamboyant gesture to the left. It seemed a bit overdone. The slow movement is noble and probing, and the finale is power-driven and literally knocks you for six.

Khaikin delivers a thrilling account of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, in the Rimsky Korsakov version. With plenty of bite, lusty exuberance and rhythmic punch, the performance is about as high octane as you’re ever likely to hear.

There are announcements in German at the beginning and end of each work, but no subtitles. The concert has been filmed in the presence of a small studio audience, so there's enthusiastic applause, which positively adds to the occasion. Five minutes into the opening movement of the Beethoven Concerto there's a 10 second dropout of sound, but the video isn't affected. Aside from this small blemish, the sound and picture are perfectly acceptable. Camera angles are restricted to about three, but the focus, for the most part, is on Hungerford. In the Mussorgsky, Khaikin is centre stage.

This DVD will appeal to those like myself who are Hungerford devotees.

Stephen Greenbank




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