This is, for once, a complete BBC recital – not one drawn piecemeal
from various sources, concert halls and dates. It captures Firkušný
in prime, magnificent form, proving every inch the heir to the
august standards set down by his fellow Czech, Jan Heřman
before the War.
This was repertoire
cut to the pianist’s cloth with precision. The Fantasie et Toccata
of Martinů was written for him in 1940 and he made a splendid
recording of it many years later. This live performance is no
less magisterial, no less spellbinding. The tempi differ little
between the commercial disc and this QEH performance but there
is that extra sense of vitality and adrenalin here. It’s all
brilliantly etched and controlled, the bravura unleashed with
exemplary command. Firkušný’s colouristic and rhythmic command
is acutely deployed and he takes the work and elevates it to
the status of a mid-century solo piano masterpiece.
Klavierstücke D946 are, in Firkušný’s hands, a feast of lyric
intensity. The first is a delicate reverie at heart but the
pianist never quite loses his sense of overarching architecture.
He points the rhythmic fusillades in the second with exemplary
control and finds noble refinement as well.
was another piece he had recorded. It’s a comprehensively tremendous
reading. Powerful, gnomic, brooding, flaring and controlled
with superb pedalling and a technique that brooks no obstacles
we find the pianist employing all his practised eloquence –
and excitement – to characterise the movements with painterly
brilliance. The devilish scurry of Gnomus is followed by the
terse and eerie Old Castle. The unnerving off centre motion
of Bydlo is positively gargantuan, Goldenberg and Schmuyle highly
charged, and the Limoges Market a flurry of Gallic suggestiveness
and vivacious loquacity. The Catacombs are stark, powerfully
measured and chordally immense; you can feel the beads of water
sliding slowly down the walls. The Great Gate of Kiev is tremendously
exciting – sometimes the very end can be a let down but not
There are some encores
as well As for the fizzing passion that underlies the Smetana
Furiant words will barely do it justice. Heřman himself
once made a recording of this, though it was shorn of much of
the introduction, but he sounds positively sedate beside his
younger compatriot. This was again something of a signature
piece for the pianist and slapped wrists to the BBC for not
noting the work’s provenance from the second book of Czech Dances.
The Concert étude, that bristling Lisztian powerhouse of a work,
is no less brilliant in execution and the cheers that greet
its end are colossal.
A tremendous recital
then that amplifies the pianist’s commercial discography, in
the main, but in the most protean and instructive way – glorious
playing, excellently recorded.