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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor Op.21 (1829) [29:32]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor Op.30 (1909) [35:22]
Witold Malcuzynski (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Paul Kletzki
rec. November 1946 (Chopin); April 1949 (Rachmaninov)
GUILD GHCD 2323 [65:11]


Malcuzynski died in 1977 but it seems longer ago. He was one of the more glamorous and popular artists on the circuit but he doesn’t seem to have fostered much posthumous enthusiasm even from the serried ranks of pianophiles. Certainly reissues continue to appear but there’s been nothing that has really sought to get to grips with his legacy in a comprehensive way.

Guild has thought to conjoin the Chopin Second and Rachmaninov Third Concertos. It’s not a bad move as far as programming is concerned. The Chopin is a good performance made better still by virtue of Kletzki’s truly first class accompaniment. This is not some prosaic skeleton or apologetic collaboration – on the contrary. Kletzki generates some marvellously effective and assertive orchestral marshalling; fine colours, taut rhythms, sympathetic control in the slow movement.  The tuttis in the first movement are cut.  Malcuzynski’s playing is cultured if not quite the final word in delicacy. Unfortunately the issue is blighted by transfer problems. Firstly it is over-processed and consequently opaque. Maybe you could do what Mortimer Frank is always suggesting in another critical forum and re-equalise (if you can). But you’d still have to contend with a couple of first movement side-joins that really won’t do and with which you can do nothing. The second of them, at 6:05-6:08, is a real dog’s dinner. Pearl 0095 is noisier but better in this respect – though the companion works are entirely different; more Chopin, Szymanowski and Liszt’s Second Concerto.

In respect of side joins the Rachmaninov is better though it still suffers from noise reduction that blunts the frequencies. To my ears this should be a much more open sound and given that the Rachmaninov was recorded in 1949 there’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be. The performance seems to have divided auditors down the years. Some have found it too fast and frivolous, others have found it “overbearing” whilst adherents admire its fluency, virtuosity and intense drama. As with the Chopin – where he was partnered by Susskind in the stereo era – the pianist set down other performances; among them a Warsaw traversal with Rowicki in 1964 and a live Mitropoulos from 1956. I happen to enjoy this Kletzki-conducted performance. The first movement is very fast but the cadenza is finely controlled and the virtuoso and expressive demands of the concerto seem to me to be well accommodated – and notably well balanced. Certainly few could deny Malcuzynski’s driving eloquence in even the thorniest passages.

So a rather unbalanced disc. The performances are generally very recommendable as examples of Malcuzynski’s immediate post-war way with both concertos. Any soloistic limitations are compensated for by conductorial excellence in the Chopin; the driving tension of the Rachmaninov is deepened by the pianist’s probing romantic affiliations in the slow movement. I just wish the transfers were better.

Jonathan Woolf


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