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Rudolf Serkin
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Capriccio in E, BWV993 (c.1704) [10:37]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J. S. Bach, Op. 81 (1904) [29:51]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp, Op. 78 (1809) [11:29]
Piano Sonata No, 21 in C, Op. 53, Waldstein (1804) [25:03]
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, London, 4 June 1973. ADD
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4177-2 [77:46]


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Magnificent programming here from Serkin. This 1973 recital reflected his enthusiasm for Bach - apparently he introduced Schoenberg to this work - while also including the music of another of his enthusiasms, Max Reger.

The Bach is in fact an oasis of calm. To be able to project this level of intimate calm to an acoustic space as large as Londonís RFH is impressive indeed. There is a hypnotic purity of thought to the performance that is quite remarkable.

Bach to Regerís Variations and Fugue on a theme of Bach is a logical progression. BBC Legends has usefully tracked each variation. The piece is a huge canvas in Serkinís hands. All aspects of Regerís straitlaced seriousness of intent and of his harmonies seem entirely right. Whatís more, the scale of Regerís conception is entirely in accord with Serkinís ability to project the larger canvas; not to mention his sometimes absolutely huge sound! In fact, this would be the ideal introduction to Reger or anyone wishing to get to know his music. A next step might be Mark Latimerís disc on Warner Classics.

Serkinís Beethoven is legendary and these BBC performances help to flesh out his discography. In 2005 I reviewed a two-disc Music & Arts set that included a phenomenal 1952 Columbia Waldstein. There was no Op. 78, though. Serkinís approach is interesting in that he sets out to create true contrasts between the workís two movements. One could easily guess the Ďma non troppoí qualifier to the first movementís allegro. This sets the ultra quick-fire second movement (ĎAllegro vivaceí) into high relief. Magnificent. 

This live Waldstein is extremely assured. The concentration involved in the first movement is almost palpable, the structural grasp almost without parallel. It is also remarkably technically accurate. The lead-in to the finale is exquisitely managed, while there are some truly beautiful shadings of tone in the finale. The gorgeous sonorities are expertly controlled. 

This must have been a very special night on the South Bank. Great pianism meets great programming Ė what more could one have asked?. Perhaps to have the evening preserved. So it is that we should count ourselves lucky to hear this. The BBC Legends series continues to fascinate and stimulate. 

Colin Clarke 

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