Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dinu Lipatti - The Complete Commercial Piano Concerto Recordings

These are the liner notes I wrote for the Opus Kura label's release earlier this year of Dinu Lipatti's commercial Concerto recordings. The disc was recently awarded Best Reissue of 2008 by the Taiwanese classical CD magazine 'Muzik'.

When the great pianist Dinu Lipatti died in 1950 at the age of 33, he had never left Europe. However, his few recordings have been supplemented by broadcast performances and released worldwide, securing him a legendary status in the pantheon of pianists. These historical documents still reflect a mere fraction of his active repertoire: Lipatti performed 23 works for piano and orchestra (he practiced two of his sixteen ‘active’ concertos daily), ranging from the Bach-Busoni D Minor to Bartok’s Third. While we now have a total of nine concerted works represented on disc, in the studio Lipatti recorded only two concertos from the standard repertoire, the Grieg and Schumann, in addition to his own Concertino in Classical Style. This CD unites these three performances on one disc for the first time.

Lipatti first performed the Grieg Concerto as a 16-year-old on November 3, 1933, so it was a work he knew intimately when he recorded it at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios on September 18 and 19, 1947. This marvellous recording reveals Lipatti’s synthesis of the highest level of musicality with transcendent technique. While this concerto has often been dismissed as a showpiece, Lipatti’s reading is a superb model of how virtuoso works can be played with impeccable style. (One can imagine how gloriously Lipatti might have played the Tchaikovsky B-Flat Minor Concerto, a work that EMI memos reveal he had agreed to record with Karajan in 1949.) His massive yet clear sound, which is particularly appreciable in the opening chords and in the cadenza, is evidence that Lipatti was an extremely powerful pianist before Hodgkin’s Disease tightened its grip. His lyrical poise, rhythmic certainty, and luscious tone contribute to this recording being one of the all-time best-sellers of this work.

At the beginning of 1948, Lipatti wrote to his teacher Florica Musicescu to tell her of the wonderful reviews that his recording of the Grieg Concerto had received, adding, “Now Columbia want me to record the Schumann (which I studied in the summer of 1945) in April with Karajan on the podium. If such an opportunity thrills me, as you can well imagine, the concerto frightens me somewhat. I’m afraid of not being sufficiently ‘Schumannian.’” Lipatti played the work in public for the first time in Basel on March 16 before the London sessions of April 9 and 10, which were followed by a concert performance April 11 at the Royal Albert Hall. The recording has been hailed as a marvel and like its partner the Grieg is still held up as a standard by which others are judged, and yet Lipatti was not entirely satisfied. “I came across one unexpected complication: a remarkable but super-classical conductor who, instead of helping my timid romantic gestures, held back my good intentions.” If the tempi are on the brisk side, there is nevertheless a sense of unbridled optimism in the performance; Lipatti’s golden tone lovingly highlights melodies, and arpeggios are emboldened by his masterful accenting. The recording would be among the last to capture Lipatti full of such innocent exuberance – six weeks after these sessions, his health worsened considerably, and his later recordings are tinged with a darker sense of foreboding.

Lipatti’s Concertino in Classical Style was first performed by Lipatti and Charles Münch in Paris on April 30, 1938, when Lipatti was still studying at Cortot’s École Normale de Musique. The conductor Hans von Benda invited Lipatti to record the work in Berlin in January 1943, and their concert performance a week prior to the January 14 sessions was warmly received by the normally frosty audience. Despite the dim recording having been made before Lipatti was in his prime, one notices his lush tone, deft fingerwork, and clear phrasing. The syncopated middle section of the third movement foreshadows the central section of the Adagio religioso of Bartok’s Third Piano Concerto (1945), a work Lipatti would later champion. The recording is a fascinating insight into both Lipatti’s early years as a pianist and his potential as a composer.

(c) Mark Ainley

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