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Grigory Ginzburg: Live Recordings Vol. III. CD 2
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata no.3 in A minor op.28 [06:58]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
12 Etudes op.8: 1 in C sharp minor [01:27], 7 in B flat minor [02:01], 11 in B flat minor [04:29], 12 in D sharp minor [02:01]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Three Preludes [06:48]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Réminiscences de “Don Juan”, S.418 [16:29]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka in A minor op.17/4 [03:34]
Grigory Ginzburg (piano)
Recorded Live in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, December 25th 1957
VOX AETERNA VACD00106 [43:41]

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Here is the second half of the Moscow recital which opened with a selection of Bach transcriptions – very romantic in conception, as I pointed out in my review. Here again the picture emerges of an essentially romantic “golden age” pianist, not always at his ease outside the elected repertoire of this type of artist.

To hear Prokofief played with passion and warmth may be salutary after the worst of today’s brittle, machine-like performances, but the lower dynamics are all but ignored and the ironic smile and the Mozartian grace of this lover of fairy tales are less evident. The Scriabin sounds as if they were learnt in a hurry; again, the finer dynamics are ignored and the delicate interplay of the hands in no.1 becomes a generalized welter of sound. No. 11 allows him to demonstrate his control of a beautiful singing line but he goes at no. 12 like bull at the gate. Very exciting but unremittingly forte. An interesting comparison in these last two is offered by a very different type of Russian pianist, Nina Milkina, an artist whose repertoire was based on the classics. In no. 11 she is more acutely aware of the harmonic twists and she keeps the regular quaver accompaniment pulsating like a Bach prelude. A haunting and memorable performance. She may seem underpowered at the start of no. 12 but there is steel as well and she builds up to a climax which is all the more powerful for not having been pre-empted by what came before. (Milkina’s disc is available on Untershrift Classics – see my review for details).

I wonder if the choice of Gershwin was more of a political statement than an act of musical sympathy, rather like Aksel Schiøtz singing “Night and Day” in Nazi-occupied Denmark. Like many classical musicians who turn to this repertoire, he thinks no. 1 is all about letting your hair down and making a hell of a noise; Gershwin’s own recording shows it’s not like that at all. On the other hand he drools over no. 2 less than certain of his colleagues; all the same it takes courage to be as coolly laid-back with such an apparently romantic tune as Gershwin was himself. I must say I’m rather taken by Ginzburg’s coy way with no. 3. We know from Gershwin’s recording that this is not what he wanted (and man! he’s got rhythm!) but this is cute and perhaps makes the piece sound less banal than usual.

Doubts about Ginzburg’s claims on posterity are banished, however, in the Liszt. Somehow he seems a different, more complete pianist when he plays this composer; no mere barnstormer, though he can knock you for six, but full of delicacy, elegance and poetry. And with that sense of artistry I missed in his Bach. A great performance.

The Chopin was I presume an encore, which might justify the omission of an episode (but why not choose one of the many shorter mazurkas?). Undoubtedly poetic, the performance seems a true mazurka only on the last page. One would need to hear more of this artist’s Chopin to comment further.

The two discs making up this recital, plus the disc containing the 1949 recordings of the Liszt concertos, are part of a series of six which will make available the small amount of live material held by Ginzburg’s heirs. I don’t know what the others contain, but I should very much like to hear this pianist in Schumann. Those for whom one disc is enough are directed to the Liszt concertos; lovers of great pianism will want all the Ginzburg they can get, and on this disc the Liszt, at least, will match their highest expectations.

Christopher Howell



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