Classical Reissue Reviews

Clifford Curzon, piano = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595; SCHUBERT: 4 Impromptus, D. 899; Moment musicaux in F Minor, D. 780, No. 3 – Clifford Curzon, p./ London Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Adrian Boult – Testament

A splicing of two Clifford appearances in Britain forms the perfect combination of Mozart and Schubert, a true balance of salon intimacy and concert-hall bravura.

Published on August 25, 2013

Clifford Curzon, piano = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595; SCHUBERT: 4 Impromptus, D. 899; Moment musicaux in F Minor, D. 780, No. 3 – Clifford Curzon, p./ London Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Adrian Boult – Testament

Clifford Curzon = MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595; SCHUBERT: 4 Impromptus, D. 899; Moment musicaux in F Minor, D. 780, No. 3 – Clifford Curzon, piano/ London Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Adrian Boult – Testament SBT 1486, 57:24 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

Assessments of British pianist Sir Clifford Curzon (1907-1982) document his studies with Artur Schnabel and Wanda Landowska, and their influence on Curzon’s preferred repertory of the German and Austrian masters, particularly Mozart and Schubert. Curiously, Curzon’s general distaste for the recording process left us no inscriptions of any Mozart piano sonatas, although numerous recordings exist of the piano concertos, led by conductors Kertesz and Kubelik. For the Royal Albert Hall concert of 6 September 1961 Curzon joins forces with the great master of linear propulsion, Sir Adrian Boult, who had not appeared at the Proms Concerts since 1958.

The propulsive magic of the first movement of Mozart’s B-flat Concerto can hardly be overstated, the lines simultaneously elegant and articulate, with Curzon’s passing off trills and occasional roulades with seamless aplomb. One contemporary critic referred to the performance by citing Curzon’s “exquisitely refined, light-fingered pianism.” Boult keeps the forward motion alert at all times, without any sacrifice of Mozart’s noble, arched phrases. For the second movement, Larghetto, Curzon finds that “felicity of phrasing” that literally defined all of his best moments at the keyboard, a perfection of touch that sets each note as a member of an exalted firmament. The color elements provided by Boult’s strings and winds seem to set the diamonds of melody among rubies of enchanted accompaniment. The last movement Allegro combines genial energies with elastic grace and spirited wit. Boult perfectly balances his orchestral forces to maintain Curzon’s fleet but aquiline poise always in the foreground, and Curzon can explode with dynamic bravura when he likes. The deft, smooth accuracy of approach and temper quite illuminates this familiar concerto well beyond its usual epithet, “valedictory” and installs the reading as among the finest we have. The audience virtually howls its approval.

Curzon did inscribe commercially three of the four Schubert Impromptus that constitute the first set, D. 899, having omitted the No. 1 in C Minor. That glaring gap in Curzon’s Schubert legacy finds redress in his appearance at Usher Hall, Edinburgh 3 September 1961, at which time he plays the complete opera. We instantly hear the Schnabel influence, who, according to Curzon “revealed to me the path I must take. He widened and deepened my whole approach to music and piano playing.” Elegance and intimacy mark the C Minor from its outset, the alternation of limpid sympathy and restrained aggression balanced in masterly fashion. The left hand tension provides angst even in the midst of melodic consolation, leading to the four-note riff that might nod homage to Beethoven. No surprise that the audience applauds after each impromptu. The E-flat Major ambles by in chromatic triplets played in the manner of a Chopin etude. Curzon’s steady pulse accounts for the mesmeric bravura of the rendition, aside from the transitions to the parallel minor in which the piece ends. Curzon shapes the lovely G-flat Major into an unbroken song without words, the bass adding a touch of menace to an otherwise serene Aeolian harp. Curzon’s stunning diminuendo half-way through makes for repeated hearing, a salon effect for a concert-hall performance. The No. 4 in A-flat Major has had few interpreters to match Schnabel, though for intelligent sensitivity Curzon does his teacher proud. The transition to C-sharp Minor, seamless, maintains a bravura dramatic tension in the arpeggios under the massive chords.

The tiny F Minor Moment musicaux serves as the perfect encore, here without the exotic puffery a Godowsky would provide. It’s not a long piece nor a long recital, but it is perfect.

—Gary Lemco




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