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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major K467 (1785) [29:11]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 5 in G major Op. 55 (1932) [24:09]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La plus que lente (1912) [4:20]
Interview: Dinu Lipatti and Henri Jaton [6:36]
Dinu Lipatti (piano: Mozart)
Samson François (piano: Prokofiev, Debussy)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan (Mozart)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (Prokofiev)
rec. Lucerne, 23 August 1950 (Mozart); Carnegie Hall, New York, 29 October 1960 (Prokofiev); 23 January 1962 (Debussy)
SOLSTICE SOCD387 [64:20]

At first sight this seems terra cognita. The Lipatti-Karjan Mozart Concerto, live at the Lucerne Festival, is one of the most famous recordings of the work, however suspect the sonics, and has seldom been out of the catalogue. It was recorded in August 1950 and three months later Lipatti was dead. As collectors, though, will know there has been a small but significant recalibration of some elements of Lipatti’s recorded legacy, with companies remastering, from various sources, some of the recordings that are the most intractable sound-wise. APR has recently tackled this in its twofer (see review) where, inter alia, the Schumann and Grieg concertos – especially the former – sound decidedly more open in sound quality than previous EMI and EMI-derived transfers. Many of Lipatti’s reissues – and for so great a musician, whose legacy is so precious and yet small this has been a consistent disappointment – have been constricted and starved in sound. It’s only really in recent years that a more sensitive approach has been applied and, in some cases, other labels have gone back to first generation discs and tapes.

Which beings us, finally, to this new disc. Solstice has already issued its new transfer of Lipatti’s last recital (see review) and this Mozart recording, whilst not from an alternative source, has been remastered by Art & Son, currently big players in the reissue market. The sound is rather more forward and focused than EMI’s own transfer – their Lipatti Icon box (see review) for example – and catches the Lucerne hall’s acoustic in a way I’ve not encountered in any previous transfer, as well as audience coughs that were submerged in the rather sludgy previous restorations. The advance then is of clarity and that applies to the piano too which is less muddy than in EMI’s work, not least in Lipatti’s chording and in his blistering cadenza; both the outer movement cadenzas are Lipatti’s.

Prefacing the concerto is a rare example of Lipatti’s speaking voice, when he is interviewed by Henri Jaton at the festival but before the concert. It’s an interesting conversation in which he talks about his cadenzas, the sonority of the piano, and touches on some of his own compositions.

Reference to Lipatti’s blistering performance of his cadenzas brings us neatly to his fellow Yvonne Lefébure pupil – this release is subtitled’ Dans les harmoniques d’Yvonne Lefébure’ – Samson François. His live 1960 performance of Prokofiev’s Fifth Concerto with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic has appeared before but is always worth re-encountering in this tigerish and brilliantly assured reading. The hall’s acoustic operates here on a narrow bandwidth but there’s enough sharply etched conducting and coruscating pianism to keep the ear occupied. Yet it’s the gaunt stoicism of the Larghetto that stays longest in the mind, implacable as well as reflective in Francois’ hands, after which the percussive brilliance of the finale – even in this hard-edged sound – is guaranteed, along with a final release of unexpected jauntiness. Applause is rightly retained.

For admirers of the pianist there is small but very telling envoi, a previously unissued and lovely La plus que lente from January 1962, direct from Bernard Gavoty’s radio programme called ‘Les Grands Interprètes’.

The sonic improvements in the Mozart are noticeable and the Debussy is a notable addition to François’ discography. Even if you have both the concertos, or are a Lipatti adherent, this release will still invite your curiosity.

Jonathan Woolf

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