Clara Haskil’s 1953 Ludwigsburg recital makes a welcome return in Hybrid SACD format and newly mastered.
I first became acquainted with this recording when Tahra first issued it in 2000 (TAH 368). The difference this time is that her fellow Romanian Dinu Lipatti’s Bartók Third Piano Concerto under the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher has been included. This has necessitated some of the original items of the Ludwigsburg recital being omitted to accommodate a single CD duration. Whilst it is regrettable that this is the case, it in no way detracts from the wonderful music included on this generously packed 78 minute disc. The omissions are: Bach/Busoni Chorale prelude ‘Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland’,
one of the three Scarlatti Sonatas, Schumann’s Waldszenen excerpt, a Debussy Etude and the Ravel Sonatine.
It is an advantage to have Lipatti’s Bartók. The strategy behind the pairing of these two pianists makes logical sense, in centring it on two fellow Romanians who had a close relationship, based on mutual admiration and support. Haskil, who was a regular guest at the Paris salon of the Princesse de Polignac, met Lipatti there in 1935. They immediately struck up a close friendship and for the next four years would meet up and phone each other daily. She was forty-one, he seventeen. Yet despite the age gap, their music-making was the unifying element. Then in 1939, when war broke out, Lipatti left Paris with his family to return to Romania. Clara was devastated. They did not see each other again until 1944 when they met in Geneva. Meanwhile Lipatti had met his future wife Madeleine. They stayed in contact in Geneva for the remainder of Lipatti’s short life. He was struck down with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and died in December 1950 at the young age of thirty-three. Clara died ten years later, in 1960, the result of a fall down some steps at the Brussels railway station. The late Jérôme Spycket’s excellent booklet notes explain in some detail their friendship and the dynamics between them. Haskil suffered from self-doubt, lack of confidence and chronic pessimism, and this impacted on their musical friendship. In the mid-seventies Spyket published a comprehensive biography on Haskil which I would thoroughly recommend, albeit being in French. As far as I am aware, it has never been translated into English.
The recital begins with Bach and Scarlatti. The Toccata is an intelligent reading, with great flexibility and that innate improvisatory feel required for a work like this. There is a wealth of light, shade and clarity in the teasing out of the contrapuntal strands. Scarlatti was a composer Haskil loved to perform. She displays great delicacy and charm in her renditions of these two delightful sonatas.
Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111 kicks off precariously. Haskil takes her time in establishing her equilibrium, with an opening marred by untidiness and several finger slips. Yet once she overcomes her initial nervousness, the performance takes on a transcendental quality. Like all great performers, she brings out the contrast between the first movement’s struggle and conflict, and the second movement’s serenity and profundity. Unlike some, her opening movement does not take on a combative approach yet it is an impassioned account. The Arietta is sublime in its realization, with the cumulative effects of each subsequent variation building the drama and tension. Haskil attains an otherworldly perspective.
The Abegg Variations by Schumann were a great favorite of Haskil, and frequently programmed by her in her recitals. The sparkling finger-work and sheer exuberance of the playing make these extracts a treat to the ears. Bunte Blätter likewise offers some poetic insights. The recital ends with an introspective take on Debussy’s ‘Etude pour les sonorités opposées’.
Dinu Lipatti’s short life robbed us of a substantial recorded legacy, so the addition of live airings to complement his slender commercial discography is most welcome. This live Bartók from 1948 is a case in point; Lipatti never recorded this work commercially. Quite why Sacher refused release of the outer two movements of the Bartók during his lifetime eludes me. He cited shabby ensemble and poor intonation. This was a totally unnecessary move. After all, this is a live recording, and any deficiencies in the orchestral department are truly compensated for in the wonderfully precise, inspirational and detailed playing of the pianist. As with all Lipatti’s work, it was meticulously prepared.
What is striking in this Bartók live traversal is the quality and vividness of the sound, allowing orchestral detail to emerge with clarity. I compared this new mastering by Tahra with my Urania issue. The Tahra is a softer-edged and quieter transfer while the Urania seems more bright and vivid allowing a little more orchestral definition.
In comparison with TAH 368, Haskil’s Ludwigsburg recital is not quite as rough-edged in this new SACD reincarnation, and makes for a more pleasurable listening experience.
Lovers of the musicianship of these two pianists will want this CD as a historical document and example of some extraordinary and exemplary pianism. They each left us much too early and I can only echo the words and description of Madeleine Lipatti, quoted by Spyket at the end of his notes - ‘these two beings made of light’.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven piano sonata 32