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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23 [33:34]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major Op.83* [44:09]
Geza Anda (piano)
Kolner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester (Now renamed WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln)/Sir Georg Solti; *Otto Klemperer
rec. Saal 1, Funkhaus, Cologne, 2 June 1958 (Tchaikovsky); 5 April 1954 (Brahms)
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5092 [77:55]

In 1976, at the young age of fifty-four, Hungarian pianist Geza Anda died and the world was robbed of, what Bryce Morrison in his CD notes describes as, ‘a rare voice and presence’. He goes on to highlight some of the qualities that Anda possessed and which singled him out as a great pianist of stature. Not only was he endowed with a wonderful technique, but his playing had the distinction of a range of tonal colour and subtlety. Perhaps it is significant that Alfred Cortot and Edwin Fischer were the pianists that inspired him the most.
Here are two live studio performances. The Brahms has been issued before, but is here re-mastered. The Tchaikovsky is a first CD release and thus new to the Anda discography.
One of the war-horses of the concert pianist’s repertoire, the Tchaikovsky first concerto is, in the minds of many including myself, overplayed. So, in reviewing this disc, I was looking for a performance which had something new to say. I was not disappointed. Anda has induced me to reappraise this work completely. I must admit, I had never associated Anda with this concerto, having admired him mainly in the music of composers such as Mozart, Schumann and Bartok. That said, I discovered that he had recorded the concerto with the Philharmonia under Alceo Galliera in 1953: issued by Testament on SBT 1064. There is also a concert performance from 1973 with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ferdinand Leitner, issued on LP by Ariola Eurodisc in 1981. I have heard neither of these performances so cannot offer a comparison.
Electrifying’ the booklet says of the Tchaikovsky performance. I can certainly concur with that sentiment. Anda and Solti give us a full-blooded and compelling reading. Excitement is generated throughout, on the wing. Anda displays incredible command in what is for many pianists a technically demanding work. Yet, he is able to convey the lyricism in the expressive passages, and especially in the gentle, eloquence of the second movement.
The Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2 was a constant companion throughout Anda’s performing career. He first played it under Mengelberg in 1941. There are eight instances documented in his discography. My first impression, when listening to this 1954 performance, was that he had truly got this work under his skin. This is a noble performance where, once again, his fabulous technique enables him to overcome the technical challenges that this work throws at the pianist. You really get the feeling that you are listening to a four-movement piano symphony. Klemperer, one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century, provides admirable support. He understands the musical structure and architecture of the work. While famed for his slow, ponderous tempi, certainly late on in his career this approach is not applied here. His timing for the first movement is 16:19. This is as opposed to the DG performance Anda recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic under Ferenc Fricsay in 1960 which runs at 18:42. He shaves a minute off Fricsay’s other three movements. Though the DG enjoys much better sound, I preferred this for its spontaneity and for the heat of a live performance.
Although almost sixty years old these two works are heard in reasonably good sound with the Brahms having the slight edge. They will be required listening for those who, like myself, are Anda devotees.
Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Brahms concerto 2 ~~ Tchaikovsky concerto 1