Cziffra in Prague 1955
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Sonata in B minor - andantino cantabile Wq 55/3 [4:01]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in F major K446 [4:06]
Sonata in C major K159 [2:26]
Sonata in A major K533 [2:25]
Sonata in G major K284 [2:24]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Les Moissonneurs [3:09]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Rhapsodie espagnole [12:18]
Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in C sharp minor [10:50]
Prelude and Fugue on the name of Bach S260 [11:01]
Funérailles [11:12]
György Cziffra (piano)
rec.1955, Prague, and January 1959, Turin (Fantasia and Funérailles)
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5008 [64:32]
Perhaps it’s the precedent of a big set called ‘Oistrakh in Prague’ that led me to think, wrongly, that this Cziffra disc contained rare examples of the pianist caught, as was David Oistrakh, in ‘live’ recitals in the city. In fact the notes quickly alert one to the fact that Cziffra made an LP recording there in 1955 and that this is the result, transferred in ‘ambient remastering’ which seems to be, in its varying forms, something of a trend at the moment. This process ‘creates a sense of space and width to a mono, or very narrow stereo, recording.’ It’s not reverb, but I point it out to those who find the concept unpersuasive.
The recital is in part at least hardly a prototypical Cziffra one, being a largely baroque-and-Liszt recital. There’s genuine warmth of legato in the unmannered playing of C.P.E. Bach Andantino cantabile and then a run of Scarlatti sonatas - better known ones. The F major is genial, and there are fluently rounded trills in the C major as well as a nicely characterised series of fanfare figures. Liszt of course is very much Cziffra’s thing but the strangely balanced LP programme offered the Rhapsodie espagnole and the Second Hungarian Rhapsody. The first is played with quite watchful and refined pragmatism - well balanced, not overtly driven except perhaps toward the end, when more operatic pretensions emerge. The Hungarian Rhapsody is played with great magnetism and control of dynamics. Cziffra maintains a sense of tension even in this, one of the more hackneyed of Liszt’s pieces, and so too in the slowest sections he ensures that things cohere metrically. The close is certainly cheeky, and a sign of the real Cziffra. The so-called ‘bonus’ tracks - can you really have bonus tracks lasting 22 minutes, which bring the total timing to only 64? - offer more Liszt, this time genuinely live in Turin in January 1959; Funérailles and the Prelude and Fugue on the name of Bach - which the notes have wrongly listed as the Bach Prelude and Fugue in G minor BWV542, as transcribed by Liszt. Here one can appreciate Cziffra’s dramatic instincts with perhaps greater immediacy than anywhere else in these performances.
I’m glad the Supraphon LP has been remastered, but the disc is still inherently and inevitably unbalanced in repertoire, and best sought by Cziffra collectors.
Jonathan Woolf 

Still inherently and inevitably unbalanced in repertoire, and best sought by Cziffra collectors.