Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Centennial Collection of Lipatti Recordings

Regular readers should know by now that I have been writing at some length about archival recordings of performances by pianist Sviatoslav Richter, including two major collections compiled by the Profil label, one devoted entirely to Franz Schubert and the other to Ludwig van Beethoven. It turns out that Profil had a very busy summer, since 2017 marked the centenary of the birth of Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti; and next month will mark the 67th anniversary of his tragic death at the age of 33, due to the onset of Hodgkin’s disease. As a result, this past July Profil released a twelve-CD 100th Anniversary Edition collection, which, even in the face of some serious technical flaws, deserves serious attention.

courtesy of Naxos of America

The good news is that the technical flaws come early in the chronology of this collection. The bad news is that they affect several chamber music performances in which Lipatti’s partners are as important as Lipatti himself. The result is that the attentive listener needs to accept the noise for what it is and keep perception focused on the signal. This effort is most rewarded when listening to the CD (the third in the set) that is devoted entirely to the music of Lipatti’s fellow Romanian, George Enescu. The disc includes performances of two of the violin sonatas, Opus 6 (the second) in F minor and Opus 25 (the third) in A minor. The violinist is Enescu himself, and those unfamiliar with either of these sonatas are likely to find themselves riveted by the intense expressiveness that both players bring to the music.

Less persuasive are the tracks on the first CD that present duo piano compositions by Johannes Brahms that bring Lipatti together with Nadia Boulanger. These include eight of the Opus 39 waltzes (played in an order that has nothing to do with how Brahms published them) and all eighteen of the Opus 52 “Liebeslieder” waltzes played in their published order with a repeat of the first waltz tacked on at the end for good measure. The vocal quartet on these tracks consists of soprano Irene Kedroff, alto Marie-Blanche de Polignac, tenor Paul Derenne, and bass Doda Conrad.

There are also some impressive concertante performances with significant conductors and ensembles. These include Ernest Ansermet (Orchestre de la Suisse Romande), Eduard van Beinum (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra), Paul Sacher (Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra), and Herbert von Karajan (both the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra). Particularly interesting is Lipatti’s performance of his own Opus 3 concertino, once with Hans von Benda and the Berlin Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble in 1943 and again in 1948 for a recording on which neither conductor nor orchestra are identified.

Where Lipatti excels the most, however, is in his solo performances of the piano music of Frédéric Chopin. Unlike so many pianists, Lipatti knows how to give expressive readings of Chopin compositions without descending into off-the-wall departures from the marks on the paper. He shares with Richter attaching the highest priority to providing clarity of execution to the attentive listener. This provides the best possible approach to getting some sense of what Chopin had in mind, rather than how subsequent interpreters would use his music as a platform for their own personal display. This includes a thoroughly satisfying account of all thirteen published waltzes, along with the first (in E minor) of the waltzes that were published posthumously.

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