Although Serkin was considered one of the piano titans of the 'Golden Age', he himself was the first to confess that he was not a natural pianist, partly due to a pair of hands more like those of a farmer than a virtuoso. Another strange fact is that Serkin never harboured any particular affection for the instrument he was so famous for, in all truth he often regarded the piano as an adversary which had to be brought under control before it could be placed at the service of music. This struggle stemmed more from his inner passion and conviction that musical truth could only be sought but never completely embraced, than from any particular physical effort. Having said that, Serkin always had a strong affinity and love for Mozart's divine scores, and his performance of this unique genius' music were always particularly inspiring.
The two concertos on this disc are in stark contrast to each other, K. 414 is full of happy, well crafted tunes, with conflicting emotions being kept tightly under control while K. 466 is maybe the darkest and most dramatic of all. In its time, it was unthinkable that such a work could be written, but amazingly its convulsive and passionate nature is very much akin to Serkin's intensity and intellect. Recorded during a concert at Guildhall, London on 23rd July 1966 (in boomy but serviceable acoustics); Serkin delivers two contrasting interpretations as the concertos themselves, lyrical, sunny and exuberant in K. 414, taut, agitated and eloquent in K. 466. The English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of one of Serkin's best friends, Alexander Schneider, manages to capture all the nuances of the scores, and its selfless support allows the soloist to be the protagonist all the time.
The 6 German Dances, K. 571 taped at the same concert are a welcome relief after all the drama and tension that unfolded before. Schneider too is able to relax, and his renditions are light and breezy, full of that rustic simplicity which is a trademark of German pasturelands. The Prelude and Fugue, K. 394 is a fitting coda to this all-Mozart release. It was recorded during a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 13th May 1968 and once again, Serkin displays his love for this composer in a version of nostalgic nobility and poetic virtuosity. Another important issue in the discography of this pianist, still fondly remembered for his sincerity and consummate artistry.
Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech