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Clifford Curzon - Decca Recordings: 1941-1972. Volume 2
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Four Impromptus D899
Recorded London, 1941
Piano Sonata in B flat major D960
Recorded at the Maltings, Snape, 1970
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No.23 in A major K488
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor K491
London Symphony Orchestra/Josef Krips, recorded London, 1953
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor Op.15
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum, recorded Amsterdam, 1953
Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor Op.5
Intermezzos in E flat major Op.117 No.1 and C major Op.119 No.3
Recorded Vienna, 1962
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Piano Concerto in A minor Op.16
London Symphony Orchestra/Anatole Fistoulari, recorded London, 1951
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Piano Quintet in A major Op.81
Vienna Philharmonic Quartet, recorded in Vienna, 1962
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Piano Quintet in F minor
Vienna Philharmonic Quartet, recorded in Vienna, 1960
Clifford Curzon (piano) with accompaniments as above
DECCA ORIGINAL MASTERS LIMITED EDITION 475 084-2 [4 CDs: 79.50 + 78.10 + 76.53 + 69.25]
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The second Curzon volume is as welcome as the first, recently reviewed on this site. It contains much that is Olympian and elevated, all that is compelling, and invariably belies the monumental struggles Curzon endured to convey the full and furthest extremes of his artistic vision. The four CDs are well filled and the repertoire reflects the range of his enthusiasms and greatest strengths.

Admirers will note that, as before, we have more Schubert Impromptus, this time D899 from his December 1941 session. I assume the masters were destroyed many years ago, along with most of Decca’s other masters; the commercial shellac hiss is not obtrusive. The C minor has sweep and grandeur, the E flat major wittily pointed rhythm and the A flat major a lyric generosity at its heart. Coupled with them come two Mozart Concertos with the LSO and Krips, here advertised as "First international CD releases". Well, no complaints from me about that or about the soloist’s sensitivity, perception and natural sounding lyricism. The concerns centre on the recording, which is, for Decca 1953, unusually unattractive. The piano is too loud in relation to the supportive instrumentation and there’s a mushy lack of orchestral detail – not altogether helped one suspects by Krips, who on this form is not a match for Szell’s much more incisive and etched support in Vienna in 1964. This is also true of the slow movement of K488 where Curzon is on sublimely more expansive form with his frequent Concerto collaborator, Szell.

We have three commercial recordings of his Brahms D minor Concerto. The most consistently stimulating is, once more, the Szell (LSO 1962) and this Concertgebouw/van Beinum comes ahead of the National Symphony/Jordá 78 set from 1946. With van Beinum Curzon’s first entry is almost timorous, certainly diffident, withdrawn and complex and the concerto grows from that seed with inexorable, moving and wonderful breadth of feeling. He becomes increasingly defiant and commanding, van Beinum offering quite expansive and elegant support. The slow movement is marked by introspection, questing and interior reflection; it’s also moving for those very reasons. He is measured and lyrical in the finale as well as dramatic, abjuring melodrama and effusive attacks. The fugato is finely done, the strings proving sonorously supple and Curzon generates plenty of chordal depth and also much lightness. Nothing is hammered out and it’s his sheer discrimination of touch, as well as an acute psychological schema for this work, that sets someone like Curzon apart from his peers. This was a work he seemed always to inhabit, to draw out from within. Coupled with his famous Brahms is his less famous Grieg. Good to have this fine performance back in the catalogue because for all his aristocracy of phrasing this is no withdrawn performance. Again, he overstates nothing, but seems to seek out the work’s essence through little moments of transfiguring intimacy. Good to hear Fistoulari as well, a Decca stalwart accompanist, who encourages some yielding and pliant string playing in the Adagio. If it’s true, as the old gag goes, that Fistoulari used to practise in a mirror whilst conducting to others’ recordings … then he learned well enough.

He plays the Brahms F minor Sonata with arching and sweeping drama – monumental, were it not for the fact that the word gives the wrong impression; ‘panoramic’ better conveys his command of the syntax of the work. The spiritualised complexity he finds in it runs through the virtuosity and is indeed an indissoluble component of it. The depth of his Adagio has seldom been equalled, the humanity of the music-making undimmed after forty years – and as potent and revealing as ever. The E flat major Intermezzo Op.117 No.1 is beautifully done. With Brahms there is, inevitably with Curzon, Schubert. His B flat minor D960, the composer’s last, has at its heart a magnificently realised slow movement, as unequivocal a salute to the abiding influence on Curzon of his teacher Schnabel as one could find. But this is all Curzon – profound, almost disquietingly so – and with lightness and elegance in the Scherzo. He doesn’t take the first movement repeat; otherwise, another great performance. The final disc shows us Curzon the chamber collaborator, here in Vienna with long-standing LP favourites, and which couples the Piano Quintets of Franck and Dvořák. Of the two it’s the latter that strikes the more immediately lyrical face with an infectious ardour in the playing that contrasts strongly with the sometimes more sanguine and gaunt direction of the Franck (which has been taken more pliantly on disc).

Once again this set earns the strongest possible recommendation. Is it too much to hope for a third volume?

Jonathan Woolf

Clifford Curzon. Decca Recordings 1949-1964 Volume 1


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