It requires tolerance to enjoy this release. The Bach/Busoni and Liszt perfomances are full of ticks, swishes, and other distracting noises characteristic of recordings made in the 1940s. (At least no one has tried to remove them with excessive filtering.) The Bartók is quieter, but even at their best, these original recordings do tend to mask the subtleties of Lipatti's playing. Also, although I have no complaints about the conducting, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Orchester des Südwestdeutschen Rundfunks frequently leave something to be desired. In fact, during his lifetime, conductor Paul Sacher did not allow the commercial release of the Bartók performance for this reason, with the exception of the second movement. Allowances must be made, though, because these are live recordings. (The Bach comes from October 2, 1947; the Liszt from June 6, 1947; and the Bartók from May 30, 1948.)
For all its faults, this CD is an exciting part of the Lipatti discography. That there are huge stylistic differences between Bach, Liszt, and Bartók goes without saying. Lipatti's artistry is the glue that holds these three concertos together. There is a seriousness here that makes something good of even the Liszt concerto, which often sounds like a frivolous piece of fluff. Lipatti was incapable of superficiality. His technique was superb, and his interpretations were at the service of the composer. If this makes him sound like another dull competition-winner, then it must be added that Lipatti had the gift of touch that could make even the simplest and most intimate passages sound intensely expressive and exciting. His concentration and single-mindedness make an immediate impression, even across the span of fifty-plus years and through the haze of imperfect recording techniques. This last trait unites him with Glenn Gould, whose pianism also commanded immediate attention, although by means of radically different techniques than Lipatti's!
Lipatti made relatively few concerto recordings. His Schumann, Grieg, Mozart (#21) and Chopin (#1) have been relatively easy to find on CD. This disc is an important addition, even if one must allowances for the sound. Most listeners will be willing to "hear through" the sonic limitations to eavesdrop on a master at work.
Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle