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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat, Op. 73, ‘Emperor’a.

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18b.

Benno Moiseiwitsch (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent.
Recorded at the aRoyal Festival Hall on March 6th, 1963 (Beethoven) and at the bRoyal Albert Hall on August 6th, 1956 (Rachmaninov).ADD
BBC LEGENDS/IMG ARTISTS BBCL4074-2 [68.15]

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In Benno Moiseiwitsch, at last one encounters a pianist for whom phenomenal technique is subservient to his equally phenomenal musicality. It is a combination we can but dream about today, and each passing competition, or each new face presented by whichever record company seems to deny the continued existence of such a precious beast. It is indeed a treat for the record collector that this BBC disc comes onto the market at about the same time as Solomon’s studio account of the ‘Emperor’ (with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Herbert Menges on Testament SBT1221 and recorded in May 1955). Both pianists' accounts breathe the same integrity, albeit presented with their own personalities.

The explosive opening chords of the ‘Emperor’ set the tone of the interpretation: the dry timpani strokes only serve to emphasise this force. There may, indeed, be some blemishes in the ensuing piano cadenzas (and when they recur later in the movement), but the actual piano sound is fabulously rich and full. Indeed, Moiseiwitsch is unafraid to take risks, and as his vision of the whole is so well projected, such small stumbles hardly matter. Along with these risks comes an astonishingly wide dynamic range, heard in microcosm in the final chordal sequence accompanied by timpani towards the close of the final movement, which moves from almost-martellato fortissimo down to a near inaudible pppp. The slow movement is beautifully sung, although Moiseiwitsch can admittedly over-project at times.

Moiseiwitsch enjoyed a special relationship with Sergei Rachmaninov, and his affection and enthusiasm for that composer’s music makes his performances memorable. More, the Proms were close to his heart (he made over a hundred appearances at the annual festival). The two combine to give a performance of great sweep and force. The opening chords of the first movement of the Second Concerto are incredibly dramatic, leading to the ensuing theme on strings, which comes across like an unstoppable flow of lava. Balancing the drama of the first movement, the second shows Moiseiwitsch’s sensitivity to subtle harmonic change. Moiseiwitsch imbues the inner part-writing of the final movements with a life and character all of their own. More, he has the long-range vision to stop the approach to the end appearing like a sprint to the finishing line. Instead, it appears as the logical, and powerful, outcome of all of the events that have preceded it.

This is a memorable coupling which acts as a reminder of Moiseiwitsch’s greatness. If only there were pianists like this today.

 

Colin Clarke


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