This disc is focused almost exclusively on Serkin.
This is the same Serkin whose exalted CBS versions of the Brahms concertos
continue to command acclaim and affection. Serkin is just as strong
here with the added advantage of Ormandy and his orchestra recorded
in civilised sound a notch or so above that available from Serkin's
partners in the Brahms works: Szell and the Clevelanders. The piano
sound tends toward forward boxiness but nothing drastic. There is little
in the way of really quiet quiets but the glowering attack of strings
and piano is always something to relish. Serkin plays the aristocratic
and sentimental grandee and yet has all the necessary spleen to make
the music sparkle. If you want smoother, subtle and more refined sound
as well as exalted interpretative values then opt for the Philips Bishop-Kovacevich
coupling with the Grieg.
The Op. 92 work starts in wald-zauber hush with ripplingly
decorative work from the piano and tender contributions from the orchestra.
The orchestra also has some tempestuously emphatic work to do and does
it fierily. The Op. 134 work is from four years before Schumann's death.
I have yet to come across a commentator who has a kind word to say of
the piece. Certainly it outstays its welcome over almost a quarter of
an hour. While it lacks the overwhelming flow of the Piano Concerto
it makes resourceful use of a singing idea of delicate sentimentality
which steers just the right side of kitsch.
Couple these recordings with a vertiginously exciting
Szell-conducted Manfred and then soak up the joy of these readings.
This is moderated only a little by the acidity of the recording.