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Grigory Ginzburg: Live Recordings Vol. III. CD 1
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 (trans. Busoni) [09:38], Siciliano from Sonata no.2 for flute and keyboard BWV 1031 (trans. G. Galston) [04:54], Prelude and Fugue in D BWV 532 [12:46], Prelude “Ich ruf’ zu dir Herr Jesu Christ” BWV 639, from the “Orgelbuchlein” (trans. Busoni) [03:38], Chaconne from Partita no. 2 for solo violin BWV 1004 (trans. Busoni) [14:53].
Grigory Ginzburg (piano)
Recorded live in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, December 25th 1957
VOX AETERNA VACD00105 [45:49]


After 45 minutes of mostly barnstorming virtuosity many another pianist would have added fifteen and gone home, but no, this is just the first half of Ginzburg’s last recital in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. The second half, with works by Prokofiev, Scriabin, Gershwin, Liszt and Chopin, has also been issued and I shall comment on it in due course.

I recently wrote about a recording of Bach organ works transcribed by Liszt and played by Joyce Hatto; I noted the essentially non-interventionist transcriptions and the pianist’s evident feeling for Bach, who emerged as the real protagonist. Here, for better or worse, is the romantic way, with flurries of notes, cascading octaves and massive textures. Ginzburg treats these works as if they are real romantic works, as opposed to romantic transcriptions of baroque works, with generous surges of emotion and a rhapsodic freedom. Best, perhaps, are the two gentle pieces – the Siciliano and the Chorale-Prelude – which benefit from the singing beauty of Ginzburg’s tone and that art of colouring an inner texture which was so characteristic of the golden age of pianism. There is a great deal of rubato (the Chorale-Prelude all but stops round about the middle) but these pieces can just about survive being treated as Chopin Nocturnes. No transcriber is named for the D major Prelude and Fugue which is perhaps the most bloated of all – Ginzburg’s own arrangement perhaps?

As for the others, obviously our appreciation is hampered by the limited (but serviceable) recording of what sounds like a poor piano badly in need of tuning. Some of the bigger textures emerge messily and I do wonder if Ginzburg’s technique was very slightly declining since the remarkable 1949 performances of the Liszt Concertos that I also commented on in this series. But it is a comparison with Busoni’s pupil Egon Petri in the Chaconne (available from Naxos on a compilation of Busoni and his pupils) which shows the real trouble with these interpretations. Petri’s conception is altogether tauter, and he makes each new variation emerge from the previous one while Ginzburg’s more wayward performance becomes a series of episodes. The Toccata and Fugue works surprisingly well, on the other hand.

Serious collectors of great pianists will need to get everything by Ginzburg that is made available; for others, I would say that the best of Ginzburg is elsewhere, and I repeat my high opinion of the disc containing the Liszt Concertos.

Christopher Howell 




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