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CD Review

Clara Haskil in Concert

SWR 19052
Clara Haskil, piano
Recorded live, 1953
SWR Music 19052CD Monaural
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Housekeeping! Housekeeping! Let's clean up a bit of a mess before we get to the music, shall we? This recital has been released before, in variable but always listenable sound. My research shows that Tahra released this very program in 2000, restoring for the first time the Op. 99 Schumann and the encores (BWV 659 and the Schumann Op. 82, #9). When Hanssler Classic released the same program a few years back, they claimed – on Amazon and elsewhere – that the encores had never been released. That's was a lie then, and now that SWR has remastered and reissued the lot again, the same lie (in fact, the very same Hanssler blurb) is being perpetuated again. It's unfortunate and disappointing, because new consumers – assuming of course they are in the market for monaural piano recitals from Ludwigsburg – should not be tricked into believing they are getting something new and exciting. Exciting, yes, but new? There's nothing new here.

I make such a huge stink because anybody who is in the market for historic(al) piano recordings should certainly consider the investment. I don't know how many times you can remaster old tapes, and the logic that the SWR tapes are inherently superior is bunk, but everything sounds pretty good. Certainly, this sounds better than dozens of inferior airchecks from even a few decades later. What really matters is Clara Haskil's heartfelt and unquestionable mastery of her craft. While often portrayed as a frail and soft-spoken older woman (she was), her playing is anything but a soft touch. Legions of piano lovers grew up on her Beethoven and Mozart, and she had a choice repertoire that she excelled in. However, veteran critics have long prized her live recordings, and while not perfect, there is enough here to ensure that I'll enjoy this disc for a long time.

I'm going to be perfectly honest; Clara Haskil's Scarlatti is perhaps the loveliest on disc. Horowitz tends to get the attention, and of course, period-practice is all the rage, but for me, nobody plays this music better than Haskil. The thirteen minutes of joy and impeccable taste might just be worth the price of the disc. But there's a great deal more. Her Beethoven may not be the stormiest or strongest (and as here, it's not free of technical blemishes) but it has a rock-solid integrity and musical intelligence. Her Schumann is Romantic but never heavy, her Bach solemn without ever turning overly clinical. Her Debussy is gorgeously spun, and her Ravel is a worthy close to the program. My complaints aside, this is a delightful program.

Copyright © 2018, Brian Wigman