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Cziffra in Tokyo - 1964
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1856)
Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49 (1841) [11:48]; Scherzo No. 2 in B minor, Op. 31 (1831-32) [9:51]; Grande Valse brillante in E flat, Op. 18 (1831) [4:47]; Valse brillante in F, Op. 34/3 (1838) [2:26]; Impromptu No. 3 in G flat, Op. 51 (1842) [5:05]; Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53, “Heroic” (1842) [6:35]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Rapsodie espagnole, S254 (c1863) [11:19]; Polonaise No. 2, S223/2 (1851) [7:50]; Grand Galop chromatique, S219 (1838) [3:11]; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 in D flat, S244/6 (1846-1885) [6:19]
Georges Cziffra (piano)
rec. Tokyo, 23 April 1964. ADD


Experience Classicsonline

Those who consign Cziffra to the soulless glitterati of pianism need to hear this F-Minor Fantaisie. Whilst it is true that some passages simply take off, leaving their intrinsic Chopin-ness behind, the darkness of the opening, the rightness of tempo, the stunning weighting of the chords, all speak of a pianist who is not shallow. Moreover, there is no trace of stagnation when the onward plodding begins again. Fast octave passages, though, seem to be the red rag to this particular bull. It is precisely this dual nature that is disturbing – one moment, intensely Chopinesque, meltingly lyrical; the next, Chopin trying to be Liszt and failing.

The B-Minor Scherzo holds plenty of fodder for Cziffra in its torrents of notes. Yet, to be fair, there is an exquisite cantabile in evidence here, too. He can veer towards extremes, a daring tactic where, by doing so, it is easy for the structure of the piece to fragment. Again, it does not; but there is no denying that the work’s final gesture is perfunctory and crowd-pleasing. The E-flat Waltz, in this context, emerges as an early encore. It certainly shines, and repeated notes are given with impressive nonchalance. There are even attempts at charm and wit - although they do sound somewhat over-rehearsed. It perhaps was not the best idea to repeat it, though – Op. 34/3 really does appear as rather vapid drawing-room music here. 

At least the final three Chopin pieces have more meat to them. The third Impromptu has fields of expansive beauty, and Cziffra is remarkably fine here, as he is in the fourth Ballade. That said, this latter does threaten to head towards Lisztian matters at times, and not only when overt virtuosity may be implied; a long chordal statement of the main theme speaks more of Liszt than Chopin. The infamous left-hand octaves of the so-called “Heroic” Polonaise are more like gunfire, something he tries to balance out by moments of real calm elsewhere. An intriguing reading. 

Incidentally, many of my thoughts on Cziffra’s Chopin are similar to those expressed by John Leeman in his review of Cziffra’s EMI Impromptus and Waltzes (see review). 

The Liszt needs few caveats. It is clear right from the off that in the Rapsodie espagnole Cziffra has returned home and, as the music ignites and begins to pile difficulty upon difficulty, it is as if Cziffra simply absorbs the problems and feeds off them. The closing pages are simply magnificent. Today, perhaps, Volodos does things close to this, but even he does not seem to carry this electricity. It seems utterly incomprehensible that there is more to come, but more there is. 

The Second Polonaise has a chordal statement of its main theme that holds more patriotism than anything heard in the Chopin items, but it is when we get to the challenges of the Grand galop chromatique that things really hot up. Much of this, even today, sounds unfeasible. The sixth Hungarian Rhapsody follows - a performance of wit and sudden, unexpected tenderness as well as daredevilry. 

Bryce Morrison’s notes do not tell us much, alas. Still, it is Cziffra that is the attraction, and if you want jaw-dropping technical prowess, start from track 8 (the first Liszt piece) and let the disc play. The recording throughout is excellent.

Colin Clarke




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