Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Concerto no.1 in E flat major for piano and orchestra [19:00]
Concerto no.2 in A major for piano and orchestra [20:14]
Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Tunes [15:18]
Totentanz [15:02]
György Cziffra (piano)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Fulvio Vernizzi (1); Bernhard Conz.(2 Fantasy); Orchestra del Teatro la Fenice di Venezia/Umberto Cattini.(Totentanz)
rec. live, 18 March 1958, 6 March 1959, 6 March 1959, 6 March 1960
IDIS 6616 [70:02]
I was so looking forward to receiving this disc to review. One of my first ever record purchases around 1958 was of Cziffra playing the Grieg piano concerto. I played it over and over until I ruined it by doing a really stupid thing. I had my record player on the bed, though for the life of me I can’t remember why, and while it was playing I had picked up a hot water bottle from the floor which I tossed onto the bed causing the arm and stylus to jump several times right across the record! I don’t know why but I never bought a replacement or anything else played by him. I forgot his name until years later when I read about the terrible job he had escaping across the border to Austria with his wife and son in 1956, having been tortured during imprisonment for having made a previous attempt to escape in 1950. His life is so incredible it’s almost like reading a script for a novel, including how he came to learn to play. However, this disc is generally a disappointment because the orchestras sound as if the recordings date from much earlier than they do, particularly in the concertos; they have a sound I associate with the 1930s. This is strange as Cziffra himself comes through much better and as brilliant as ever and his playing is every bit as good as his reputation has it.

Cziffra’s repertoire consisted mainly of Liszt, Bartók, Dohnányi, Chopin, Schumann, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Grieg. He seemed to inhabit the very spirit of Liszt and seeing him play these works must have been an amazing experience. His gentle passages are magnificent and he could make the most hushed sounds that make you hold your breath in awe while his power enabled him to play the loud ones with incredible force that you can well imagine Liszt sitting in his place. His playing in the Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Tunes comes over especially well, despite being accompanied by an orchestra that lacks ‘oomph’; more pasta than paprika. The dirge-like orchestral sounds that open the Totentanz and the orchestra’s general lacklustre performance distract the listener, taking his attention away from the wonderful playing of Cziffra whose gypsy heritage gave him a particular edge in this kind of repertoire where folk melodies exert a powerful influence. There must be plenty of recordings that serve him better and my aural memory of my old Grieg vinyl record is of a much more thrilling performance all round than these. I fear that it is only for Cziffra fans who must own every recording he made. Even the insert is devoid of any commentary about the music or Cziffra and surely this is an unforgivable omission.  

Steve Arloff

I fear that this is only for Cziffra fans who must own every recording he made.