Classical Reissue Reviews

Van Cliburn = BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2; SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto – Van Cliburn, piano/ Chicago Sym. /Fritz Reiner – Testament

Previously unpublished live collaborations between Cliburn and Reiner, prior to their commercial efforts in these large Romantic masterworks.

Published on March 21, 2011

Van Cliburn = BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2; SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto – Van Cliburn, piano/ Chicago Sym. /Fritz Reiner – Testament

Van Cliburn = BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-fat Major, Op. 83; SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 – Van Cliburn, piano/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner - Testament SBT2 1460 (2 CDs) 50:16; 32:15 [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] ****:

Testament resurrects the live, in stereo, collaborations (8 and 12 April 1960) between Van Cliburn (b. 1934)–still embowered in the glories of having won the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow–and Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), prior to their commercial inscriptions of Brahms and Schumann for RCA Records. The Cliburn virtues certainly come to the fore: the unhurried, burnished tone, a grand sweep in the Brahms, a natural fluency and articulation of notes, rendered powerfully and (mostly) accurately.  The immeasurable quality of audience presence adds to the electricity of the occasions, since Cliburn’s nature seemed to crave that interaction of personal response that the recording studio never could provide. The between-movements applause from the audience at Orchestra Hall bespeaks a palpable appreciation of  the music’s lofty realization.

I find the broad approach to the D Minor Scherzo almost soothing rather than tempestuous, perhaps less “appassionato” than nobly-measured. Reiner, too, wants his tempests architecturally molded, the evenness of the pulse almost metronomic. The diviso strings ring out with luxurious authority, the horns and winds a model of restraint, a setting for the jeweled playing from Cliburn. The Andante offers a quietude and elegant intimacy of expression without having sacrificed expansiveness and spatial vision. The darker elements in the bass line gain resonance and tension through having Cliburn’s rather classically long-lined phraseology. The music comes almost to a point of stasis, the keyboard’s notes dewdrops from a melancholy heaven. The return of the cello solo (Frank Miller) heralds an even more resigned affect, lovely though in Autumn. Grace and deft stylization mark the last movement, unhurried and once again broad in gesture. Whatever sonorous tension accrues, it builds up incrementally, in large periods that slough off so as the gavotte-like rhythm may proceed with occasional incursions of bravura.  The last pages scamper off the page, carrying a delighted audience with them.

The Schumann Concerto proceeds relatively moderato throughout, unrushed, thoughtful, and in deeply meditative colors. The emphasis lies with Eusebius, not Florestan, so the dreamer in Schuman comes to the fore, particularly in the A-flat section of the first movement. The martial episodes, having a more marcato pace, seem dignified rather than Romantically manic. Cliburn’s capacity to clarify three-hand effects in Schumann’s filigree proves effective in the cadenza, suavely wrought so as to make us wish Cliburn had inscribed this composer’s C Major Fantasie. Cliburn and Reiner linger amongst the Intermezzo’s gentle mysteries, the cello line especially plangent, as though Reiner had fulfilled his long wish to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra. Good schwung for the last movement, rife with impelled gusto and seamless fioritura, Allegro vivace.  A performance carefree but not frivolous, the last movement convey a thoughtful delight in music-making, much as Artur Rubinstein had when in his prime and not busy earning the Reiner rancor for missed notes. Quite fine and a rather sober set of performances that project Cliburn as a poised artist; Testament offers the set at a reduced, special price.

–Gary Lemco




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