Czech pianist Rudolf Firkušný was a
selective Brahmsian. His one studio recording of the First Concerto
- he didn’t record the Second - was made in Pittsburgh in October
1956 with William Steinberg. That Capitol LP has been reissued, and
can easily be found on an EMI CD. There is also a live New York Philharmonic
performance from the same year, with Guido Cantelli [AS506]. Probably
the best of his collaborations in the composer’s music came in
the chamber sphere. He accompanied William Primrose in the Viola Sonatas
and Erica Morini in the Third Violin Sonata [MCA, 1962] - though do
not overlook Arbiter 151 which contains live Morini-Firkušný
recitals, including another Third Sonata performance. Then there was
the 1965 pairing of the pianist with Fournier in the Cello Sonatas.
As for the solo piano music, there were a couple of discs in 1958 and
1959 - Rhapsodies, Intermezzi and Capriccios, in the main.
Rosbaud wasn’t especially known as a Brahms conductor - certainly
not symphonically - but he was a fine accompanist. He controls the ebb
and flow of the music-making with something like magisterial control,
generating sinewy tension in the process, his soloist responding with
an acutely directional sense - but one that’s never too taut.
There are a few orchestral fluffs in the first movement, and no one
could claim that the sound quality is state of the art for the time,
but it is acceptable, Above all there is metrical flexibility within
an established pulse, and Firkušný takes pains to stress
the left-hand harmonic figures. Thus despite the tubby sound, the aristocratic
distinction of the slow movement is unarguable, and where the pianist
gives life to accompanying figures that others more commonly subordinate.
Some imperious pianism animates the finale, often coruscating in its
detonator-like power, and the concerto ends, as it should, in calibrated
excitement and rhythmic allure.
One other piece from the same concert is included - Hindemith’s
Concerto for Orchestra. Rosbaud was a fine conductor of the composer’s
music and indeed he was taped [STR10022] with the Rome RAI Orchestra
in 1959 playing the Concerto, so it was very much a calling-card of
his at the time. Fortunately he had the NYPO at hand, and they contribute
much with distinctive bravura, not least the droll wind choir in the
scherzo second movement. The finale of this compact work is a dramatic
and dynamic one, and it receives a rip-roaring performance.
The first port-of-call for Firkušný’s Brahms Concerto
is the studio Steinberg, but it’s valuable and important now to
have two ancillary live performances covering the years 1956-60. As
is usual from this source, there are no notes.
Masterwork Index: Brahms
piano concerto 1