Dinu Lipatti (piano)
The Complete Columbia Recordings, 1947-1948
Includes Zürich test recordings with Antonio Janigro (cello)
rec. 1947/48. Mono
APR 6032 [2 CDs: 144:00]
The Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti has been elevated to cult status since his untimely death from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 33 in December 1950. His commercial discography, made for EMI's Columbia label, amounts to little more than three and a half hours, yet such is the quality of these inscriptions that they've remained best sellers since the time they were set down. Fortunately, this dearth of studio recordings has, over the years, been supplemented with live broadcasts and private issues. On CD there have been many reissues on various labels, some not always in the best sound. Lipatti signed up for Columbia in 1946, and the then record producer Walter Legge made the pertinent remark about the pianist's legacy: "small in output but of the purest gold".
In 1999, APR released a single CD in its Signature series, The Complete 1947 UK Columbia Recordings, in Bryan Crimp's remasterings. The label has now rereleased these in a twofer, adding those recordings made the following year, 1948. The set also includes five test recordings the pianist made in 1947 with cellist Antonio Janigro in Zürich. This is the first time these have seen the light of day on CD.
These early Columbia recordings capture the pianist in robust health, and shine like a beacon for their youthful vigour and supreme artistry. Lipatti delivers Scarlatti's Sonata in D minor Kk9 (L413) and Sonata in E major Kk380 (L23) with clean-limbed eloquence, bedecked with imaginative and well-executed ornamentation. Phasing is supple and finely nuanced. The pianist is famous for his rendition of Myra Hess's arrangement of Bach's "Jesu, joy of man's desiring", an encore with which he concluded his final recital at Besançon. Chopin always held a special place in his heart. The D flat Nocturne is the most sublime and poetic performance of it I've ever heard. Showcasing Lipatti's cantabile playing, rubato is sensitive and dynamics are finely calibrated. The Barcarolle is comfortably paced, allowing the narrative to unfold naturally. It's notable for its refined voicing. The B minor Sonata was the only large scale work set down in Studio 3, Abbey Road. Held in high regard at the time, it was awarded the Gran Prix du Disque. It's a white-hot traversal, dramatic and fiery, yet ardently expressive. Liszt's Petrarch Sonnet 104 is sensual, passionate and heroic, whilst Ravel's Alborada del gracioso is lively, characterful and alluring.
The two concerto recordings were also made at Abbey Road, this time in Studio 1. The earliest is the Grieg, with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Alceo Galliera, dated 18-19 September 1947. The work needs no introduction. Lipatti takes great pains not to over gild the lily. He fully taps into the intoxicating, dream-like quality of the slow movement, proving himself the supreme colourist. The Schumann Concerto recording was made over two days in April 1948. Lipatti felt that Karajan's brisk pacing adversely tempered his nuancing. I must say, the tempi in no way seems overly pushy to me. Having said that, it’s a highly charged performance, and the tension only adds to the reading's potency. The finale, especially, has that edge-of-seat zest which literally leaves you reeling.
Given the charisma that exists between the Janigro and Lipatti, it's strange that Legge never issued these six 78rpm sides posthumously. An anecdote is told by Steven Isserlis, a pupil of Janigro. The cellist regretted that a collaboration with Lipatti never came to fruition, adding "because Mister Walter Legge didn't like the cello". None-the-less, these valuable aural documents, in acceptable sound for their age and provenance, give a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been. Isserlis goes on to describe the performances as “...wonderfully sensitive, imaginative playing, and such mastery”. These brief glimpses reveal what would have been a true partnership of equals.
As I said at the beginning of my review, these recordings have cropped up over the years in various incarnations from several sources. My treasured possession was a 5 CD compilation released by EMI in 1990. A head to head comparison of EMI's transfers with these APR efforts is revealing. APR preserves some healthy surface noise, missing from the former which, for me, is most convincing. In addition to conferring a new lease of life on these recordings, these remasterings, made by Bryan Crimp, also brighten the sound somewhat. Werner Unger is to be applauded for the renovation of the Janigro/Lipatti test pressings. Another plus for me is the excellence of the accompanying booklet notes, courtesy of Mark Ainley, a foremost authority on historical piano recordings, who has written extensively on Lipatti. His annotations are both detailed and authoritative, providing the listener with biography, analysis and context.
Pianophiles will welcome this release, the more so given the inclusion of the Janigro collaborations.
CD 1 [79:38]
Abbey Road, London recordings 1947
1-2. SCARLATTI Sonata in D minor Kk9 (L413); Sonata in E major Kk380 (L23)
3. BACH/HESS Jesu, joy of man’s desiring from Cantata BWV147
4. CHOPIN Nocturne in D flat major Op.27 No.2;
5. CHOPIN Waltz in A flat major Op.34 No.1
6-9. CHOPIN Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor Op.58
10. LISZT Petrarch Sonnet 104 No.5 of Années de pèlerinage, 2ème année – Italie, S161
11-13. GRIEG Piano Concerto in A minor Op.16, PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA / ALCEO GALLIERA
Abbey Road, London recordings 1948
1-3. SCHUMANN Piano Concerto in A minor Op 54, PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA / HERBERT VON KARAJAN
4. CHOPIN Barcarolle in F sharp major Op.60;
5. RAVEL Alborada del gracioso No.4 of Miroirs
Zürich test recordings with Antonio Janigro (cello) 24 May 1947
6. BEETHOVEN Cello Sonata in A major Op.69 – I. Allegro, ma non tanto
7. J S BACH (arr. SILOTI) Andante in D major from Sonata for solo violin in A minor, BWV1003
8. FAURÉ (arr. CASALS) Après un rêve Op.7 No 1
9. RAVEL (arr. BAZELAIRE) Pièce en forme de habanera;
10. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Flight of the bumblebee