Aureole etc.

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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

José Iturbi – Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor K466 (1785)
Concerto for Two Pianos in E flat major K365 (1779)
Piano Sonata No. 12 in F major K332 (1781-83)
José Iturbi (piano) with
Amparo Iturbi (piano)
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra directed by José Iturbi
IVORY CLASSICS 70908 [68.47]


It’s certainly unfair that José Iturbi’s name has become so little known. Partly this must stem from his exceptional popularity – he had a couple of million-selling RCA discs – but also from the direction his career took when he assumed the conductorship of the Rochester Philharmonic. His film stardom was pretty much a nail in the coffin of his connoisseur reputation. In this all-Mozart disc that restores Iturbi’s 1937-40 RCA Victors to the catalogue we have a strong insight into his playing of the central repertoire, as distinct, say, from his perhaps more celebrated Albéniz.

Born in Valencia in 1895 Iturbi was, as were many Spanish pianists, trained in Paris. He earned a precarious living in cafes and taught elsewhere in Switzerland before accepting a position at the Conservatory in Geneva. Despite increasing success as a concert soloist – he made his American debut for instance playing the Beethoven G minor accompanied by Stokowski and the Philadelphia – his sights were set on a conductor’s career. He guest conducted widely before, in the 1936-37 season, he was appointed Rochester’s conductor and his enormous popularity really dates from the period of his numerous MGM films – rather garish and ghastly if memory serves right.

Ivory Classics’ disc shows that he had very distinct gifts as a Mozartian – unmannered, direct, plain-speaking, imperturbable, technically eloquent and fully capable of withstanding any technical or expressive problem. The D minor Concerto – which like the Double Concerto he directs from the keyboard – elicits from Iturbi a measured and effortless musicality. He also has a deal of style and manages to elucidate the orchestral string figuration with care and clarity. The answering violin phrases are very well brought out and when it comes to his pianism his cadenza (Beethoven’s) is notably successful. There are maybe some overripe string phrases in the Romanza but we can certainly forgive him this indulgence for the affectionate simplicity he brings to the music. What I did lack though from time to time was a greater sense of depth. For all the elegance and lyrical impress – undeniable – there was some lack of verticality in his response. No arguments about the finale however – fluent and fleet and decisive. The Double Concerto with his sister Amparo is a strong one though hardly one preferable to the Schnabels’ almost contemporaneous recording. Its virtues are splendid passagework, sympathetic collaboration, very fine cadenzas from Iturbi himself and a buoyant musicality. The central work is the F major sonata K332. Clearly he was a significant Mozartian and this performance signals his abundant talent. Much admired though the recording is however I find the root of the Iturbi problem as ultimately one of a lack of projection of the inner life of the Adagio. For all his clarity and for all his self-evident finesse there is sometimes a frustrating lack of deeper exploration. Still these limitations – if such they are - are no bar to appreciation of his other strikingly persuasive strengths and this Ivory Classics transfer presents these recordings with notable success, indeed with a clarity that befits Iturbi’s own.

Jonathan Woolf

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