This disc brings together
two of the world’s great treasures:
the musicianship of Rudolf Serkin, and
the priceless archives of the British
Broadcasting Corporation. In this installment
of the ongoing BBC Legends series,
we get a glimpse of the great pianist
at the height of his powers and in the
heart of his repertoire.
Opening with the rather
sunny twelfth piano concerto, one senses
right away that both soloist and conductor
are in complete command of the elegance
and grace of classical period music.
Although these recordings were made
before much of the vast performance
practice research had been carried out
or put into practice, one still gleans
the feeling these artists had for formal
structure, balance, reserve and charm.
Serkin’s technique was legendary, and
his obsession with perfection well documented.
Such obsessions pay off here as he delivers
a truly lovely performance, marred only
by the occasional tubercular hack from
an audience member. Of particular note
is the seamless cantabile that he achieves
in the slow movement. Orchestral balance
is very fine, and in spite of some occasional
background noise, these mono recordings
hold up nicely in sound quality as well.
The D minor concerto
is considerably darker and more turbulent
than K414, but is not without its fair
share of majestic beauty. Schneider
does not over-blow the turbulent opening
movement, but instead assigns to it
a palpable gravitas and majesty. Another
singing slow movement is followed by
a rollicking Rondo as only someone with
Serkin’s fingers can accomplish.
The German Dances make
for a nice treat given that they are
seldom programmed or recorded. The prelude
and fugue is also an interesting morsel,
but I found the playing a bit harsh
and punchy. One might prefer more of
the elegance of the concerto recordings.
This is a very fine
slice of history indeed, and one that
should interest and delight a broad
spectrum of listeners. Recommended.