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Rudolf Firkusny 1912 - 1994

The Dvorak Society
Occasional Publications. No 1.

My first introduction to the music of Brahms was a second-hand copy of his First Piano Concerto played by Rudolf Firkusny with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Steinberg. Although I have heard many different performances since then and owned some excellent ones - Curzon/Szell, Katchen/Monteux included - the Firkusny still holds its place in my affections, particularly because of the beautiful slow movement.

Firkusny's performances of other pieces have captivated me since then, Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Janàcek Concertino and Capriccio and Dvorak's chamber music. This little publication from the Dvorak Society therefore served to remind me of his life and his wide range of recordings.

There are only 28 pages to the booklet, half taken up with a biographical sketch by Graham Melville-Mason and the other half a very full discography compiled by Richard Beith. Rudolf Firkusny was Vice-President of the Dvorak Society and later a Patron, so it is fitting that he should be the subject of their first Occasional Publication. Graham Melvi11e-Mason knew Firkusny, indeed there is a photograph of the two of them with Josef Suk, and his sketch of the pianist is an affectionate one.

From what the author says here and what I have read elsewhere, it would be difficult not to be affectionate about Firkusny, he seems to have been a gentle and kindly man as well as a wonderful pianist. The author is able to comment on the difficulties facing artists and composers who adored Czechoslovakia but deplored the Communist regime with the consequent conflict of loyalties. The text includes quotations from critics and from Firkusny himself and packs a large amount of biographical information into a short space.

Equally valuable is the discography which contains full details of all known recordings and a reference to other sources. Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and Schubert figure largely as well as the expected Dvorak, Janacek and Martinu. If the Dvorak Piano Concerto is still not very popular, it is no fault of Firkusny, he recorded it six times in two different editions. Whatever the format, all the performances of Firkusny which have been preserved are listed in a very helpful arrangement. Particularly tempting to me is that Firkusny performed the Brahms First Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Cantelli, although this is an 'unauthorized release'. It is dubbed such by Mrs Firkusny who also read through the early drafts of this publication, thus further confirming its accuracy.

Small this publication may be but it is a treasure trove for anyone interested in Czech music as well as in Firkusny. The booklet (ISBN is 0 9532769 0 2) may be obtained from the Dvorak Society at 5 Linden Grove, Garstang, Preston PR3 1FN, the price is £5.00 which includes UK P. & P. (Overseas orders add 50p), Cheques payable to The Dvorak Society.

I recommend the publication without reservation.

Ralph J. Smith.

This Review first appeared in the Bulletin of the Federation of Recorded Music Societies ©

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