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Tsong Westminster 4843712
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Fou Ts’ong (piano)
Complete Westminster Recordings
rec. 1960-72
ELOQUENCE 484 3712 [10 CD: 540]

Fou Ts’ong (1934-2020) fully deserves this handsome tribute. Born in Shanghai, Fou rose to celebrity at the 1955 Chopin Competition in Warsaw where he placed third, behind Ashkenazy and the eventual winner, Adam Harasiewicz. He studied with Zbigniew Drzewiecki, the guru of Chopin teachers, before arriving in London in 1958 where he was to remain for the rest of his life.

A recording contract was soon forthcoming with Westminster for whom he set down the nine LPs that are faithfully reproduced in this box – complete for the first time - and the outlier, the Decca Mozart disc made in 1972 with Barenboim and Ashkenazy in which they perform the ‘Lodron’ concerto for three pianos.

In his booklet notes Jed Distler mentions that Westminster had enlisted Clara Haskil to record some Scarlatti sonatas back in 1950. It so happens that a decade later Fou reprises in stereo a number of the sonatas she performed then (in mono). He does so with great clarity and tonal refinement and without any fussiness or eccentricity of tempo or phrasing. His trills are even and bright and he is at all times sparing in his pedal usage. The second disc focuses on the other two major ‘School of 1685’ composers, Handel and Bach. He plays Handel’s Chaconne in G major, the Suite No 14 and the little Minuet in G minor. He finds considerable amplitude in the Chaconne whilst in the pithy suite he brings a crispness and proportionate sense of articulation to the music. His Bach focuses on the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV903, soberly controlled, and the Capriccio on the departure of a beloved brother, in B-flat major, BWV 992.

For his July 1961 Beethoven brace, presided over by Westminster’s Dr Kurt List, he played Opp 109 and 110. His clarity here is notable - he brings details to the fore that in other more heavily pedalled performances are glided over – and his rubati, especially in Op 109 are quite personal, his pacing and accenting similarly so. I happen to find Op 109 rather underwhelming – not cold, but strangely marrying directness and personal touches to an extent that tends to rob the music of nobility. Op 110 is better.

His fellow Westminster pianists numbered, in addition to Haskil, Barenboim, Lewenthal (for big concertos), the ageing Petri, Badura-Skoda and Demus. Elsewhere in the catalogue, you could find Walter Klein, Brendel, Haebler, Richter and reissues of masters like Schnabel – just for starters. It was a crowded marketplace and Westminster had to focus on salient features of Fou’s discography. They selected a representative brace of Schubert sonatas, D784 and D960. This is territory that Vox covered with one of their leading artists, Friedrich Wührer. For someone who had been brought up on Schnabel’s performances – his father had a large record collection – Fou doesn’t emulate the older man’s aesthetic. His approach is more direct, less lingering, and with a rather reserved quality, though the long first movement of D960 is handled with considerable command of architecture and control of transitions.

For most people, though, Fou’s affinity with Chopin is his primary claim to discographic fame. From his earliest days he was feted for his colloquial way with the Mazurkas, for their ebbing and flowing, the control of metre, the flexibility he allows them to generate without ever losing control. His selectivity was necessary, and 18 were recorded in 1961. Possibly significantly, he plays three from the Op 24 set, more than any other. Halina Czerny-Stefanska recorded a slew of Mazurkas to similarly fine effect and it’s my impression that she is the warmer performer. His second solo Chopin disc – CD6 – was actually recorded in November 1960, amongst his very earliest recordings: some Mozart concertos were recorded at around the same time. Here he plays the four Ballades – his erstwhile nemesis Harasiewicz had also recorded No 3 amongst other Chopin pieces for Philips. This was well-tilled soil, but newcomers still had something to say – Peter Frankl on Turnabout for example as well as pre-war stagers like Malcuzynski. Fou makes a fine, fresh impression, bringing sufficient dynamism to bear and never stinting the poetic richness of the music though even here, too, he can seem just a touch reserved.

He recorded the Schumann and the Chopin F minor with Peter Maag and the LSO in June 1962 at Walthamstow Assembly Hall. They can both be found in Eloquence’s Maag box. Maag is an exceptionally supportive colleague, and Fou performs creditably, poetic in the opening movement of the Schumann and introspective in the central movement of the Chopin, where Maag is more helpful than Walter Goehr ever was to Myra Hess.

The remainder of the box is devoted to Mozart concertos. He recorded Nos 9 and 12 in Vienna with the British conductor Brian Priestman, a release soon licenced to Music for Pleasure. Westminster recorded their concerto sequence in the Mozart-Saal of the Konzerthaus, which had a fine, warm acoustic which is heard at its best in this 1967 reading. Fou was a most sensitive Mozartian, elegant, refined but dashing when called for. In No 9 it was a pity he was up against Brendel and I Solisti di Zagreb under Janigro, which is perhaps even finer a reading, but No 12 is excellent on its own terms. The earlier 1960 brace of Nos 25 and 27 featured the Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper under erstwhile fiddler Victor Desarzens, crisply performed – Hummel’s cadenzas in No 25, Mozart’s in 27 – and full of verve in the finales.

The last CD is a Christopher Raeburn-produced disc made in 1972. Fou is joined by Barenboim and Ashkenazy in a buoyant reading of K242 but he sits out K365. Barenboim performs and directs in both works. Interestingly it wasn’t released until three years later.

Fou went on to further his career on other labels, of course, but this Westminster box captures him at his freshest. It has been exceptionally well produced, and uses the de rigeur miniaturised LP covers. The remastering ensures it’s heard in the best possible sound. If you want some foundational Fou, don’t omit to snap up this box.

Jonathan Woolf

CD 1
Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757)
Sonata in C major, Kk 132 (L.457)
Sonata in C minor, Kk 73 (L.217)
Sonata in F major, Kk 82 (L.82)
Sonata in B minor, Kk 27 (L.449)
Sonata in E major, Kk 380 (L.23)
Sonata in F major, Kk 483 (L.483)
Sonata in G major, Kk 124 (L.482)
Sonata in F major, Kk 151 (L.238)
Sonata in F major, Kk 256 (L.256)
Sonata in E major, Kk 206 (L.257)
Sonata in C minor, Kk 11 (L.352)
Sonata in C major, Kk 255 (L.255)
Recording Location: Konzerthaus, Mozart Hall, Vienna, Austria, July 1961

CD 2
George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
Chaconne in G major, HWV 435
Suite No 14 in G major, HWV 441
Minuet in G minor, HWV 434/4
Johann Sebastain Bach (1685–1750)
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903
Capriccio on the departure of a beloved brother, in B-flat major, BWV 992
Recording Location: Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK, June 1962

CD 3
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Piano Sonata No 30 in E major, Op 109
Piano Sonata No 31 in A-flat major, Op 110
Recording Location: Konzerthaus, Mozart Hall, Vienna, Austria, July 1961

CD 4
Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
Piano Sonata No 14 in A minor, D.784
Piano Sonata No 21 in B-flat major, D.960
Recording Location: Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK, June 1962

CD 5
Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)
Mazurka in E major, Op 6 No 3
Mazurka in A minor, Op 7 No 2
Mazurka in E minor, Op 17 No 2
Mazurka in A minor, Op 17 No 4
Mazurka in G minor, Op 24 No 1
Mazurka in C major, Op 24 No 2
Mazurka in B-flat minor, Op 24 No 4
Mazurka in C minor, Op 30 No 1
Mazurka in B minor, Op 30 No 2
Mazurka in B minor, Op 33 No 4
Mazurka in E minor, Op 41 No 2
Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op 50 No 3
Mazurka in C minor, Op 56 No 3
Mazurka in A minor, Op 59 No 1
Mazurka in G minor, Op 67 No 2
Mazurka in A minor, Op 67 No 4
Mazurka in A minor, Op 68 No 2
Mazurka in F minor, Op 68 No 4
Recording Location: Konzerthaus, Mozart Hall, Vienna, Austria, July 1961

CD 6
Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)
Ballades Nos 1–4
Prélude in A-flat major, Op. posth.
Prélude in C-sharp minor, Op 45
Berceuse in D-flat major, Op 57
Recording Location: Konzerthaus, Mozart Hall, Vienna, Austria, November 1960

CD 7
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 54
Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)
Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor, Op 21
London Symphony Orchestra/Peter Maag
Recording Location: Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, UK, 15 & 18 June 1962 (Schumann), 19 & 20 June 1962 (Chopin)

CD 8
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Piano Concerto No 9 in E-flat major, KV 271 ‘Jeunehomme’
Piano Concerto No 12 in A major, KV 414
Vienna Radio Orchestra/Brian Priestman
Recording Location: Konzerthaus, Mozart Hall, Vienna, Austria, June 1967

CD 9
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Concerto No 25 in C major, KV 503
Piano Concerto No 27 in B-flat major, KV 595
Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper/Victor Desarzens
Recording Location: Mozart Hall, Vienna, Austria, November 1960

CD 10
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Concerto for Three Pianos and Orchestra (No 7) in F major, KV 242 ‘Lodron’
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (No 10) in E-flat major, KV 365
Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Fou Ts’ong; English Chamber Orchestra
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 22 April 1972

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