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Jonathan Woolf
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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major K467 [29:11]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 5 in G major Op. 55 [24:09]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La plus que lente [4:20]
Interview: Dinu Lipatti and Henri Jaton [6:36]
Dinu Lipatti (piano: Mozart)
Samson François (piano: Prokofiev, Debussy)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan (Mozart)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (Prokofiev)
rec. Lucerne, 23 August 1950 (Mozart); Carnegie Hall, New York, 29 October 1960 (Prokofiev); 23 January 1962 (Debussy)
SOLSTICE SOCD387 [64:20]

The pairing of Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950) and Samson François (1925-1970) is apposite. Both have established legendary reputations since their untimely deaths. Lipatti died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 33 in December 1950. He left behind a recorded legacy which producer Walter Legge described as “small in output but of the purest gold.” Samson François (1925-1970) was something of a maverick whose playing, at times, could be willful. His teacher Yvonne Lefébure did her best to refine this “rough diamond”. Yet his dedication to his art, bestowed on his recorded legacy a timeless quality. He drank and smoked to excess, and this lifestyle eventually took its toll. In 1968 he had a heart attack on stage, and in 1970 he died aged only 46.

Just a little over three hours of recordings bear witness to Dinu Lipatti’s exalted stature as a pianist. Fortunately this meagre legacy is supplemented by live airings that have and will hopefully continue to surface. This live performance of Mozart’s C major Concerto K467 derives from the August 1950 Lucerne Festival, with Herbert von Karajan directing the Festival’s resident orchestra. It was the last time the pianist collaborated in a concerto performance; three months later he would be dead. The Concerto has had several incarnations, and I’m already familiar with the EMI transfer, issued as a 5 CD set in 1990. This Solstice release benefits greatly from remasterings by Art & Son, and I must say the improvement on the EMI transfer is appreciable. There’s more depth to the sound and a greater sense of forward presence. Lipatti employs his own cadenzas, idiomatic and imaginatively wrought. The audience’s enthusiastic applause is retained. The performance plumbs the depths of this captivating work, with Lipatti seeking meaning in every bar. The slow movement, especially, benefits from the pianist’s eloquence, refinement and inward expressiveness. It’s good to hear Lipatti sharing his thoughts on musical matters with Henri Jaton, prior to the performance. A full transcript with English translation is included in the accompanying booklet.

Samson François seems only to have shown interest in Prokofiev’s Fifth Piano Concerto. He recorded it commercially with Witold Rowicki & Philharmonia Orchestra in 1964 and there’s a live airing with the Orchestre National de la RTF under Lorin Maazel set down on 21 September 1958 at Besançon. The latter I reviewed in a 3 CD compilation in 2014.  The live performance here dates from a Carnegie Hall concert taped 29 October 1960 with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. It’s seen the light of day before; Forgotten Records have issued it, but I’ve not heard itheir transfer to compare. It’s sonically superior to the Mozart. The work is cast in five short movements, the longest being the Larghetto, which is wistful and endearing. Bluster and swagger are a general characteristic of the remainder, and the reading fuses Gallic wit and sarcasm. As a bonus, the pianist brings a magical touch to Debussy’s La plus que lente. This previously unpublished gem derives from Bernard Gavoty’s radio programme ‘Les Grands Interprètes’ (January 1962).

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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