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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 in G, Op.58 (1806-8) [33:37]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5 in E flat, Op.73 ‘Emperor’ (1809) [39:29]
Jascha Spivakovsky (piano)
Victorian State Orchestra/Clive Douglas (4)
BBC Scottish Orchestra/Ian Whyte (5)
rec. live broadcasts, January 1961 (4), January 1953 (5)
Spivakovsky: Bach to Bloch - Volume 7

The Jascha Spivakovsky series from Pristine reaches volume seven with a rather problematic release, the appeal of which will be limited to specialists in a way that not even earlier editions could claim. The reason is the poor condition of the 1953 broadcast of the Emperor Concerto, about which more in a moment.

If the series had piqued curiosity about Spivakovsky there is the Fourth Concerto to consider. This pairs the pianist with Clive Douglas and the Victorian State Orchestra in an Australian broadcast of January 1961. The sound here is certainly decent enough. Douglas (1903-77) was himself Victoria-born, and became assistant conductor both in Sydney from 1947-53 and with the VSO from 1953-66. He also composed and recorded his own First and Second Symphonies and some other orchestral works for ABC. EMI also released one of his symphonic pieces in 1952. Apparently, he had missed some cues in the rehearsal to this performance – one given just six weeks after Spivakovsky had undergone surgery that according to Mark Ainley’s note had nearly killed him – so Spivakovsky had to undertake some remedial leading to ensure unanimity of entries.

Fortunately, the piano is well focused in the perspective even if the strings can sometimes be somewhat veiled. Wind tuning is not all it might be and there are a few ragged moments of ensemble, despite the rehearsal. That said, Spivakovsky’s passagework is full of clarity and the first movement cadenza is dispatched with tremendous brio. His unselfconscious playing in the second movement has great nobility and distinction. Its depth is well-weighted and balanced and prepares for the spirited finale which, with its rhythmic bravado, also goes well, even if the close of the concerto is just a touch melodramatic.

The Emperor was performed in front of an invited audience of 100 and broadcast on the BBC’s General Overseas Service. It was taken down via shortwave and the resultant sound is splintery, with a sharp treble, and instances, more than one alas, where the sound recedes quite significantly. The first movement is athletic, the Adagio unusually spacious, the finale good despite a sonically messy end, through the dynamics sound very odd – whether because of the transmission damping or the shortwave frequency, I can’t quite say. Not an easy aural ride.

If you have an interest in this series the G major should be your focus and treat what you can derive from the Emperor, probably more than I have implied since it’s the only surviving example of Spivakovsky playing this concerto, as something of a bonus.

Jonathan Woolf

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