> GRIEG, CHOPIN Lipatti CDZ5748022 [CH]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 16 (3)
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, op. 11 (1), Etudes, op. 25/5, op. 10/5 (2)
Dinu Lipatti (pianoforte), Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra/Otto Ackermann (1), Philharmonia Orchestra/Alceo Galliera (3)
Recorded Tonhalle, Zurich, 7 Feb. 1950 (1, 2)
No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 18-19 Sep. 1947 (3)
EMI CLASSICS CDZ 5 74802 2 [70.36]

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The recordings by which we get to know a loved work always hold a special place in our affections, or shall we say our memories? When I was in my mid-teens there were still people around who were shedding their 78s collections, and most gramophones then were still able to play them; and so it was that I came into a set of the Lipatti Grieg Concerto and played it again and again. Every bar of it seemed wonderful, both the music and the playing, and it has remained ever since as an ideal against which all others were judged. I have the 78s still but I havenít had the means to play them for many a year. It was therefore with more than usual interest that I turned to the present CD transfer (of course, the recording has seldom been out of the catalogue in all the years between but I never found the courage to take a trip down this particular memory lane).

Truth to tell, it all sounds quite different now. I had forgotten that the recording, while doing fair justice to the delicacy of Lipattiís touch in the softer moments, was clattery and inclined to distortion in the big moments; not for the first time, the CD transfer seems to bring out both sides of the coin. But what I had remembered was an Olympian calm which I donít find here. I suppose that, gradually modifying my own concept of the work, I had applied my newly evolved view back to the supposed model. Lipatti is supremely beautiful and poetic in the quieter moments, but his reading is also more impetuous than we usually hear, a very dashing young manís performance. And there is no getting away from the fact that Galliera takes a Palm-court view Ė hear how he glosses over the first movementís second subject, concluding it with an enormous rallentando, after which Lipatti enters with the tempo he wants. Nor does the long introduction to the slow movement, again swiftish with the wrong kind of rubato, give adequate preparation for the ineffable poetry with which Lipatti himself dresses the remainder of the movement. All things considered, of the tried old classics, I think that perhaps Solomon and Curzon wear their years better. And remember that, if you really want to know Grieg, thereís Järviís 6-CD pack on DG 471 300-2.£35 review It has a performance of the Concerto by Lilya Zilberstein which is very appealing in its fresh simplicity and, having made the outlay, youíll have everything Grieg wrote for orchestra in wholly admirable performances.

The Chopin performance wonít have such time-honoured associations since it turned up rather more recently. It was in late 1971, in fact, that EMI put out what was said to be a 1948 Swiss broadcast under an unknown conductor. The November 1971 EMG Monthly Letter Ė of glorious memory Ė commented that "although sonically rather dim it is possible to discern the distinction of Lipattiís playing, and this calm, measured performance is pure poetry compared to some of the slick pianistic utterances one so frequently hears these days". Iíd second all that except, oh dear, thereís always a "but", not long afterwards EMI had red faces that were as nothing in comparison with the egg smeared all over the face of the anonymous EMG critic (and plenty of others too) when it turned out that the performance was not by Lipatti at all but by a not undistinguished Polish lady whose double-barrelled name escapes me in this moment [it was Halina
Czerny-Stefanska - LM]
. Then, later on, the real Lipatti performance we have here turned up, but all this raises a lot of questions. If a performance was fine enough to be issued and to have all that praise heaped upon it by experienced critics when it was thought to be by Lipatti, why does the same performance deserve total oblivion when it turns out to be by someone else? For that matter, if a goodly percentage of the recorded performances that circulate were not really by the artists they claim to be by, just how many of us would be any the wiser?

My father has entertained over the years a number of amusing "conspiracy" theories concerning mainly conductors who turn up frequently on records but who you never actually see conducting a concert. One such was Leopold Ludwig Ė "such an obviously made-up name". Well, I read Ludwigís obituary somewhere; he died, ergo he had lived. Another was "this chap Peter Maag" and I had to assure my poor father Iíd really seen Maag conduct in Milan. Well, actually, what I saw was an elderly white-haired gentleman who rolled up to conduct a performance of Mendelssohnís Scottish Symphony strikingly unlike the famous Decca recording, but it would have been grist to my fatherís mill if Iíd told him that. He even had a theory about Vernon Handley, and imagine how he chortled with glee when he finally bought a ticket for a Handley concert and then Handley was indisposed and his place taken by another conductor! In the end we can only listen with faith, a dose of suspicion and the reflection that the likelihood of all the record labels being wrong is on a level with Bertrand Russellís example of an improbable but irrefutable hypothesis; namely that the world was created five minutes ago complete with memories.

So back to the real Lipatti and the sound is pretty poor, suggesting an amateur off-the-air job, and Ackermanís opening tutti is so lackadaisical that one wonders why Lipatti didnít walk out on him. But thereafter the orchestra hardly counts and Lipatti is quite wonderful, uncovering a wealth of poetry in what can seem to be a rather youthfully garrulous composition. Somehow you can tell that Lipattiís soul identified with even minor Chopin more than with Grieg.

So this is another essential historical recording, no doubt about it. But how about coupling the real Lipatti Chopin performance with the one that wasnít? Now that would give us food for thought.


Christopher Howell


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