> CURZON Liszt Sonata BBC Legends [CH]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Sonetto 104 del Petrarca (from Années de pélerinage, 2e année – Italie), Berceuse, Valse Oubliée no. 1, Sonata in B minor
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Andante and Variations in F minor
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Impromptus, D.899: nos. 2-4
Sir Clifford Curzon (pianoforte)
Recorded at the Edinburgh Festival (Leith Town Hall) 5.9.1961 (Liszt)
BBC Studios, London, 30.3.1961 (Haydn); 24 12.1961 (Schubert)
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4078-2 [67.22]

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I listened to this inside out (Haydn, Schubert, Liszt) since it seemed the logical order, but I had to admit the disc’s planners had a point. Though the live recording from Edinburgh is not faultless (whether it is the instrument, the acoustic or the recording equipment, it comes out a little middle-heavy; the fault is unlikely to have been Curzon’s) you quickly get used to it, and the pianist’s wonderfully luminous softer touches are well caught. The performances are absolutely terrific. Unlike Horowitz’s grand passion and Lipatti’s poetry, Curzon takes a riskier line with the Petrarch Sonnet, with surging emotion and withdrawn musing placed side by side rather than aiming for a straight-through approach; and his fingers seem to probe deeply into the keyboard in search of Liszt’s harmonic subtleties. Curzon’s own nervous tension is palpable, but, while in the recording studios this could cause him to freeze, in front of a public it transforms itself into an almost desperate urge to communicate. After a magically lucid Berceuse and an often impish Valse Oubliée, the Sonata can only be called phenomenal. Much of it is inspired cliff-hanging, as though Liszt’s own more demonic aspects had taken such possession of Curzon as to lead him again and again to the brink beyond which all hell would have been let loose. You sense that the pianist is taking unforeseen and unsuspected paths on the spur of the moment. Rarely has a performance revealed more fully Liszt’s creative schizophrenia, for the softer, more lyrical moments are frequently heart-rending.

Performing did not come easily to Curzon; nerves and insecurity often made concerts an ordeal for him. Those born without the artistic urge might well ask why he insisted on going through with it when he could have sat quietly at home reading the newspaper. Few performances show better than this one why an artist just has to go on and play.

Things are calmer in the BBC Studios. Unfortunately the close recording robs us of some of the Curzon magic. Not so much in the Haydn, which finds a wealth of colour and expression in a piece which, though reputed to be among its composer’s best, can sound anything but that in the average college student’s hands. The Schubert seems to find Curzon in a strangely aggressive mood with a composer he very much loved – though more distance and bloom to the sound might have created a different impression. As it is, Curzon’s Schubert is best appreciated elsewhere.

Still, the Liszt’s the thing. It enters the select Panthéon of the very greatest recorded performances of this composer and no lover of great pianism should miss it.

Christopher Howell

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