SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 – Clifford Curzon, piano/ London Symphony Orch./ George Szell – Decca/ ORG 45 rpm (2 discs)

Decca Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound from 1962 fully revealed for the first time now.

Published on January 25, 2012

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 – Clifford Curzon, piano/ London Symphony Orch./ George Szell – Decca CS 6329/ Original Recordings Group 45 rpm (2 discs) ORG 103 *****:

This 1962 recording has long been considered one of the very best performances and recordings of the difficult Brahms First Piano Concerto. It is one of the prime examples of the achievements of the Decca engineers of the time in getting lifelike sound, during this Golden Age of analog recording.  It has been reissued many times on LP and CD, lately in the Decca Legends series, together with other works. But this 45 rpm remastering is the last word in presenting the very natural and deep sonics which the original engineers captured, but which could not be fully appreciated with the cartridges and turntables of that day or the CD reissues since then.

The work is not your usual virtuosic, showoff piano concerto, but is quite difficult for the soloist. For one thing, Brahms’ orchestrations are very dense and thick—it takes some effort to be heard without pounding. And Curzon is definitely not a pounder.  He plays with great sensitivity and taste. Szell does his best not to drown out Curzon, especially in the blustering and long first movement.  I was curious how these 45 rpm reissues would handle a movement longer than the seven-to-ten minutes most 12-inch 45s carry on a side. Well, it turns out in exactly the same way those four-minute 78 rpm 12-inch discs did: by fading down the music at the end of the first side, and then fading it back up at the start of the second side. What else could you do? (At least one doesn’t have to get up and tend to the turntable every four minutes! Some us don’t appreciate that sort of exercise as much as we once did.)

The rich tone of Curzon’s piano is a joy to hear, but it suffers from the same problem heard on most piano recordings – too wide an acoustic image. But that’s not the fault of this superb remastering.

—John Sunier




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