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Alfred Cortot – The Master Classes
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita for keyboard No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825 (BC L1)
Praeludium [1.20]
Allemande [0.42]
Corrente [0.34]
Sarabande [0.56]
Menuet I and II [0.45]
Giga [1.25]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fantasia for piano in C minor, K. 475 Adagio. Allegro. Andantino. Più Allegro. Tempo I [8.21]
Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major ("Alla Turca") K. 331 (K. 300i)
Tema. Andante grazioso e variazioni [4.54]
Menuetto - Trio [1.18]
Rondo alla Turca. Allegretto [1.46]
Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K. 310 (K. 300d)
Allegro maestoso [2.56]
Andante cantabile con espressione [2.48]
Presto [0.55]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major ("Les Adieux"), Op. 81a 1
Das Lebewohl (Les Adieux). Adagio – Allegro [6.52]
Abwesenheit (L'Absence). Andante espressivo [3.38]
Das Wiedersehn (Le Retour). Vivacissimamente [4.04]
Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90
Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck [4.12]
Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen [5.28]
Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101
Etwas lebhaft, und mit der innigsten Empfindung. Allegretto ma non troppo [3.16]
Lebhaft, Marschmässig. Vivace alla marcia [2.39]
Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll. Adagio ma non troppo, con affetto [2.21]
Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr und mit Entschlossenheit. Allegro [3.53]
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109
Vivace, ma non troppo [4.06]
Prestissimo [2.01]
Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo. Variations I-IV [7.10]
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110
Moderato cantabile molto espressivo [5.02]
Allegro molto [1.22]
Adagio ma non troppo [3.34]
Fuga. Allegro ma non troppo [4.36]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22
Andantino [4.18]
Fantasie (Obolen auf Beethovens Monument) for piano in C major, Op. 17
Durchaus phantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen [8.22]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Introductory remarks to Chopin's Sonata No. 2 [0.57]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35
Grave - Doppio movimento [6.07]
Scherzo [3.41]
Marche funèbre. Lento [4.56]
Presto [1.16]
Introductory remarks to Chopin's Sonata No. 3 [0.31]
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
Allegro maestoso [7.39]
Scherzo. Molto vivace [1.57]
Largo [3.36]
Finale. Presto non tanto [4.28]
Introductory remarks to Chopin's Ballade No. 1 [1.05]
Ballade for piano No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 [6.20]
Introductory remarks to Chopin's Ballade No. 3 [1.38]
Ballade for piano No. 3 in A flat major, Op. 47 [5.57]
Ballade for piano No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 [8.09]
Scherzo for piano No. 3 in C sharp minor, Op. 39 [5.43]
Mazurka for piano No. 14 in G minor, Op. 24/1 [1.23]
Mazurka for piano No. 15 in C major, Op. 24/2 [1.20]
Mazurka for piano No. 17 in B flat minor, Op. 24/4 [2.08]
Mazurka for piano No. 18 in C minor, Op. 30/1 [1.31]
Mazurka for piano No. 19 in B minor, Op. 30/2 [1.09]
Prelude for piano No. 2 in A minor, Op. 28/2 [2.13]
Prelude for piano No. 4 in E minor, Op. 28/4 [1.42]
Prelude for piano No. 5 in D major, 28/5 [0.43]
Prelude for piano No. 8 in F sharp minor, Op. 28/8 [2.02]
Prelude for piano No. 17 in A flat major, Op. 28/17 [3.47]
Prelude for piano No. 20 in C minor, Op. 28/20 [1.55]
Nocturne for piano No. 15 in F minor, Op. 55/1 [3.48]
Waltz for piano No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 18 Grande Valse Brillante [4.17]
Alfred Cortot (piano)
Recorded in Master Classes at the École Normale de Musique, Paris between 1954 and 1960
SONY CLASSICAL S3K89698 [3 CDs: 65.03 + 75.42 + 56.50]

If your appetite for Cortot’s master-classes was whetted by hearing his poetic elucidation for a student of Kinderszenen’s romantic byways then you will be truly swayed by this three CD set. It enshrines over three hours of Cortot’s master classes at the conservatory he’d founded in 1919, the École Normale de Musique, and was taped over the course of six or seven years by a student of engineering, Pierre Thouzery. What we have are Cortot’s own performances and his comments on his students’ playing and on the works in general. I say “performances” but I should strongly qualify that by noting that, as with any teacher, Cortot plays in response to a student’s performance and that the results are often fragmentary. They’re certainly not to be taken as concert performances.
Nevertheless there are some additions to Cortot’s discography here not least in the form of the Bach Partita. These are of considerable significance to admirers, notwithstanding the inevitably partial nature of the performances. Perhaps though, if anything, it is the contextual nature of the music making that will be the most important nature of these discs; the opportunity to hear Cortot’s eloquent and imaginative discourse upon the music and approaches to it. These, of course, are in French but full English translations are provided.
Laced through the poetic and philosophic reflections are humorous asides – a blast of Paganini thrown in to amusing effect or an aside as to unnamed contemporaries. Listen to him, for example, when discussing the A major Mozart Sonata K331 (300i); “I cannot stand the way some great Italian artists play [demonstration follows] No, no, it must sound natural [demonstration].”  Naturally we conjecture as to unnatural sounding Italian Mozartians – Michelangeli? In the alla Turca finale of the same sonata he enjoins the student to be “more biting.” Whilst he describes the slow movement of the A minor sonata K310 as “like a lied of Schubert” – and plays it with appropriate songfulness.
We hear him explain that Le Retour of Beethoven’s Les Adieux sonata should represent agitation, not joy, though the revelations of his explication of the E minor Op.90 are thwarted because, as does happen, he plays and talks simultaneously. In such cases we have to rely on such words as the transcript catches. His playing of the finale of Op.109 is rapt, and his words on underscore his belief in its vast unity and quotes Goethe’s Faust – literary and pictorial allusions are the vein that runs through his understanding. His Chopin B flat minor Sonata is played with torrential and explosive clamour, though its opening movement has as many wrong notes as right, even by his standards. This remains a constant feature of the master class performances But hear his words on the Largo of the B minor sonata – “There is nothing left…no melody…only harmonies…”

What emerges forcibly is his narrative involvement in these works and that is at its most acute in Schumann and in Chopin. The Mazurkas and Preludes constantly invoke words such as “meaning” and “pain” and for all the questions of rhythmic emphases and dynamics and balancing (“much too loud” he complains of a student performance of the C minor Prelude) we remember most his comment on the later Chopin’s “sickly nostalgic mood” in relation to the Fourth Ballade.
One of the prime movers behind the project was Murray Perahia and his booklet comments are extremely instructive, his determination to see the project to completion admirable. The constituency for this three CD set will be limited, doubtless, but that makes it even more valuable. If you want an insight into Cortot’s methodology, his approach to music making and to teaching, you will find this set fascinating. Acknowledging that his playing is related to the specific circumstances of a master class one can still admire much, especially the terpsichorean Bach Partita, the driving Chopin Scherzo, the infectious lift of some of the Mazurkas and his intense Beethoven. It is an important document, no question, of a psychologically acute teacher who fused the practical with the poetic and never shied away from questions of the heart, and the soul.

Jonathan Woolf


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