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CD Review

EMI Firkušný Edition #2

Johannes Brahms

  • Capriccio in F Sharp minor, Op. 76 #1
  • Intermezzo in A Flat Major, Op. 76 #3
  • Rhapsody in G minor, Op. 79 #2
  • Capriccio in D minor, Op. 116 #1
  • Intermezzo in B Flat minor, Op. 117 #2
  • Intermezzo in E Flat minor, Op. 118 #6
  • Intermezzo in B minor, Op. 119 #1
  • Intermezzo in E minor, Op. 119 #2
  • Intermezzo in C Major, Op. 119 #3
  • Rhapsody in E Flat, Op. 119 #4
  • Sonatas for Viola & Piano Op. 120 #1 & 2
Rudolf Firkušný, piano
William Primrose, viola
EMI 66065 Sonatas 1958 recorded in stereo, Rest 1959 recorded in mono
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Frédéric Chopin

  • Sonata #3 in B minor, Op. 58 *
  • Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op. 9 #2
  • Polonaise in C minor, Op. 40 #2
  • Scherzo in B Flat minor, Op. 31
  • Barcarolle in F Sharp Major, Op. 60
  • Valse in c sharp minor, Op. 64 #2
  • Nocturne in D Flat, Op. 27 #2
  • Grande Valse Brillante, Op. 18
Rudolf Firkušný, piano
EMI 66066 Mono: 1957/*Stereo: 1959
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Claude Debussy

  • Suite Bergamasque
  • Estampes
  • Children's Corner Suite
  • Reflections on the Water
  • Two Arabesques
  • The Engulfed Cathedral
  • Minstrels
Rudolf Firkušný, piano
EMI 66067 1956, 1958
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I was not familiar with Brahms' solo piano works, so this was a new as well as pleasant experience for me. If you are also unfamiliar with them this disc would be an excellent introduction. Most of it would be categorized as salon music, but it has more substance than some of that ilk. It is, especially in the Intermezzos, very relaxing music but not banal. The insert notes provide an excellent guide to the novice, helping give you a place to hang your hat. I am familiar with the viola sonatas. When Primrose comes in it is heaven…the whole disc is worth it just for these performances. Sound on Sonata #1 (second on disc's end) the viola tends to sound just slightly sour. The whole picture is more monaural than stereo. What is odd is that it was recorded the same day as the Second, but the Second sounds warmer. It is almost as if the mikes were repositioned after one of the recordings and the results were better. For some reason the mono recordings (made later?) sound a bit clearer, more firm then either of the stereo recordings. In the solo music the interplay of the hands again strikes me. I keep wondering why I don't hear that same effect in the Debussy. All I can say is that this disc provided many evenings' pleasant listening.

The Chopin is a must!! I compared the selections here with some of my other favorite recordings by Rubenstein, Lívia Rév and others. Here the interplay of the hands is again a plus. There is much poetry and lovely detail. I think this is one of the qualities of Firkušný's playing that attracts me. He seems to find notes to play that the other pianists somehow seem to miss. There is also a certain charming twist in his left hand that adds to the music's gestalt. I am assuming that most of you are familiar with the music enough to know what it is about. If not, you are in for a wonderful evening of listening. The monaural sound is clear and has a depth and body to it.

If I have some reservations about the Debussy CD it is partially due to the fact that I expected so much. The very flow of the music into and out of itself, so evident in the Smetana and Beethoven in the first issues, is lacking here. When I listen to others in my collection, Michelangeli and Rev for example, I can hear this interplaying flow. In Firkušný I hear a very good performance, but it is somewhat literal by comparison with other pianists' Debussy and even Firkušný's performances of other composers. Perhaps Debussy just eluded him, or perhaps Firkušný is presenting an alternative that might have some merit. Regardless, for now this is the only disc I do have some reservations about and they might not be so problematic for others. For some odd reason the later recordings of the Debussy have a lot more tape hiss on them than do the earlier recordings. I cannot figure out why this is, but I was told that in some cases the master tapes were in very poor condition and a lot of work had to be done to make them useful.

These discs complete EMI's tribute to Rudolf Firkušný. Here you can listen to a great pianist playing on a great instrument. This is a grand piano performance. I am glad that EMI took the marketing gamble to produce these discs. Excellent insert notes accompany each disc. They were compiled from the LPs. A short commentary about Firkušný, written by George Jellinek, has been appended to them. My musical education and experience has been enhanced by listening to these discs. I strongly recommend them to all of you.

Copyright © 1995, Robert Stumpf II