Those who consign Cziffra to the soulless glitterati of pianism
need to hear this F-Minor Fantaisie. Whilst it is true
that some passages simply take off, leaving their intrinsic Chopin-ness
behind, the darkness of the opening, the rightness of tempo, the
stunning weighting of the chords, all speak of a pianist who is
not shallow. Moreover, there is no trace of stagnation when the
onward plodding begins again. Fast octave passages, though, seem
to be the red rag to this particular bull. It is precisely this
dual nature that is disturbing – one moment, intensely Chopinesque,
meltingly lyrical; the next, Chopin trying to be Liszt and failing.
B-Minor Scherzo holds plenty of fodder for Cziffra in its
torrents of notes. Yet, to be fair, there is an exquisite
cantabile in evidence here, too. He can veer towards
extremes, a daring tactic where, by doing so, it is easy for
the structure of the piece to fragment. Again, it does not;
but there is no denying that the work’s final gesture is perfunctory
and crowd-pleasing. The E-flat Waltz, in this context, emerges
as an early encore. It certainly shines, and repeated notes
are given with impressive nonchalance. There are even attempts
at charm and wit - although they do sound somewhat over-rehearsed.
It perhaps was not the best idea to repeat it, though – Op.
34/3 really does appear as rather vapid drawing-room music
least the final three Chopin pieces have more meat to them.
The third Impromptu has fields of expansive beauty, and Cziffra
is remarkably fine here, as he is in the fourth Ballade. That
said, this latter does threaten to head towards Lisztian matters
at times, and not only when overt virtuosity may be implied;
a long chordal statement of the main theme speaks more of
Liszt than Chopin. The infamous left-hand octaves of the so-called
“Heroic” Polonaise are more like gunfire, something he tries
to balance out by moments of real calm elsewhere. An intriguing
many of my thoughts on Cziffra’s Chopin are similar to those
expressed by John Leeman in his review of Cziffra’s EMI Impromptus
and Waltzes (see review).
Liszt needs few caveats. It is clear right from the off that
in the Rapsodie espagnole Cziffra has returned home
and, as the music ignites and begins to pile difficulty upon
difficulty, it is as if Cziffra simply absorbs the problems
and feeds off them. The closing pages are simply magnificent.
Today, perhaps, Volodos does things close to this, but even
he does not seem to carry this electricity. It seems utterly
incomprehensible that there is more to come, but more there
Second Polonaise has a chordal statement of its main theme
that holds more patriotism than anything heard in the Chopin
items, but it is when we get to the challenges of the Grand
galop chromatique that things really hot up. Much of this,
even today, sounds unfeasible. The sixth Hungarian Rhapsody
follows - a performance of wit and sudden, unexpected tenderness
as well as daredevilry.
Morrison’s notes do not tell us much, alas. Still, it is Cziffra
that is the attraction, and if you want jaw-dropping technical
prowess, start from track 8 (the first Liszt piece) and let
the disc play. The recording throughout is excellent.