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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Alfred Cortot – The Master Pianist
CD 1 [68:45]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810- 1849)
Preludes Op. 28 [32:01]
Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 45 [4:07]
Berceuse in D flat Op. 57 [4:08]
No. 1 in A flat Op. 29 [3:45]
No. 2 in F sharp Op. 36 [4:27]
No. 3 in G flat Op. 51[4:52]
Fantaisie-impromptu in C sharp minor Op. 66 [4:34]
Barcarolle in F sharp major Op. 60 [7:52]
CD 2 [78:01]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio in B flat 'Archduke' Op. 97 [36:05]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat D898 [31:14]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Seven Variations on Mozart's 'Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen' from 'Die Zauberflöte' WoO46 [10:03]
CD 3 [61:53]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Children's Corner [13:38]
Preludes, Livre I [32:28]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Sonatine [10:17]
Jeux d'eau [4:43]
CD 4 [62:46]
Cesar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A (1886) [26:44]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for Violin and Piano [11:29]
Prélude No. 12 (Livre I) - Minstrels (arr. Hartmann) [2:03]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major Op. 13 [21:45]
CD 5 [74:32]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Trio No. 25 in G (Sonata) Hob. XV: 25 (Op. 73 No. 2) [12:53]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 9 in A, 'Kreutzer' Op. 47 [30:19]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in A minor Op. 102 [30:31]
CD 6 [78:42]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor Op.49 [28:52]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor Op. 63 [30:04]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Ten Variations in G on the song 'Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu' from 'Die Schwestern von Prag' by Müller Op. 121a [18:50]
CD 7 [58:32]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Sonata in B minor S178 [25:24]
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C sharp minor from 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies S244 [9:22]
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11 in A minor from 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies S244 [4:59]
Paraphrase on Verdi's "Rigoletto" S434 [6:38]
Légendes No.2 - 'St Francis de Paule walking on the water' S175 [7:31]
3 Concert Studies - La leggierezza from S144 [4:21]
Alfred Cortot (piano and conductor)
Jacques Thibaud (violin)
Pablo Casals (cello)
Orquestra Pau Casals, Barcelona
rec. 1923-49. ADD
EMI CLASSICS ICON 2173042 [7 CDs: 479:11]
Experience Classicsonline

EMI’s ‘Icon’ series has proved to be, on balance, a good one though it’s perpetuated some less than optimum transfers. My experience of this particular edition devoted to Cortot is that the transfers are very acceptable. Some were made in 2006 – the Preludes for instance – whilst others are credited to the 1997 work that EMI France carried out on, say, Debussy and Ravel that are contained in disc three. Still others date back to 1989 – the Franck, Fauré and Debussy violin sonatas, whilst others – the trios - come from 1991. So the net has been spread widely. I certainly found the 2006 restorations rather more to my liking than some of EMI’s recent GROC work, a lot of which I find metallic and wearying; not all, of course, as the Beethoven-Busch quartet performances are strongly excepted.
The run down of the recordings in this seven CD set shows the expected recordings so there will be little surprise for collectors. For the generalist with a hankering for historical performances by a master such as Cortot the good transfers and the repertoire – especially its completeness in terms of the trio recordings with Thibaud and Casals will vie with the set’s good value as double inducements.  
A few specific words about transfers, then. Regarding the Kreutzer sonata I prefer the work here to the old Biddulph [LAB028] by Mark Obert-Thorn; there’s greater tonal depth in EMI’s work. The trios are all on Naxos of course – the Schumann and Mendelssohn on 8.110185, the Haydn and Schubert on 8.110188. EMI’s work is generally more open, and preserves greater treble, though the Naxos is warmer and has a touch more tonal bloom. To take another example the 1933 Impromptus are on Naxos 8.111023 in a 2005 transfer. The 2006 EMI transfer has a touch more clarity and presence and I happen to prefer it. I think the 1949 Berceuse is totally clear-cut. The Naxos is muffled against the clarity of the EMI.
These solitary examples should give one some indication of the strengths of this set and a look at the head note will reveal the depth of repertory covered. The majority of pieces were recorded between 1926 and 1933 though there are obvious exceptions. Jeux d’eau is the solitary acoustic recording, made in New York in March 1923 and the post-war ’49 sessions are represented by the Chopin items in the first disc.
The Op.28 Preludes are the 1933 recordings. There will be partisans of the 1926 set – on Naxos 8.111023 (see review) – and maybe less so of the wartime 1942 traversal as well.  But this mid point cycle is in many ways the most consistently illuminating. The second disc is devoted to the Archduke about which I’ve written in its Naxos guise [8.110195] – a very fine though not, for me, truly outstanding reading – where it’s coupled with the Kreutzer sonata.  The Schubert is definitely a great performance though and the Mendelssohn, Haydn and Schumann are joined by the two sets of variations that made up the small corpus of recordings set down by a trio that made do with a really exceptionally limited repertoire.
The Debussy and Ravel performances are self-recommending even to those who adhere to other of Cortot’s contemporaries in this repertoire. The Franck Sonata is a classic French performance, comparable to the later Francescatti-Casadesus and the Belgian Dubois-Maas duo (on Biddulph and a must-hear) in terms of stylistic acumen. So too the Debussy sonata and the Fauré in A, long admired staples. Cortot and Thibaud and Casals joined forces in the famous Barcelona recording of the Brahms Double Concerto, Cortot caught here in his only expedition - in this set - as conductor.
The final disc gives us some explosive Liszt, his 1929 recording of the Sonata being one of the tersest and fastest on record, whilst the New York recorded Hungarian Rhapsodies are full of dynamism and leonine wit. They make a wonderful, glamorous and virtuosic end to a finely selected box.

Jonathan Woolf


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