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CD Review

Dinu Lipatti Plays

  • Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 *
  • Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 **
  • Dinu Lipatti: Concertino "In the Classical Style" ***
Dinu Lipatti, piano
* Philharmonia Orchestra/Alceo Galliera
** Philharmonia Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
*** Berlin Chamber Orchestra/Hans von Benda
Opus Kura OPK2072
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The two major works were reviewed on Dutton 9719 by Mr. Gerald Fenech in 2002, but since the closing of Borders Books and Music, I have seen precious few Dutton titles around. Thankfully, Albany Music distributes Opus Kura from Japan, giving collectors a way to acquire the Grieg and Schumann together again. And you should, because these singing and poetic performances rank among the best of any era.

In a life cut tragically short by illness, each of Lipatti's recorded efforts demand the collector's attention. But unlike many of the live broadcast performances available, these famous recordings – in the case of the concertos – feature a world-class orchestra and good sound for the time period. Opus Kura gives us a fair bit of tape hiss, but also a pleasingly wide dynamic range and a solid sonic picture. Not that piano fans care one way or the other; Lipatti is a legend and I imagine that any way to get these performances conveniently will be enough.

Perhaps Lipatti didn't like working with Herbert von Karajan, as seemingly everyone is keen to point out. I don't see it as a huge deal; Karajan was hardly a teddy bear, and other musicians (Richter especially) hated him a good deal more. In any event, the performance is still tremendous, if noticeably quick in places. No extra-musical baggage hampers the Grieg, which the pianist himself was apparently pleased with. Galliera may not have been a podium giant, but he's smart enough to recognize that this is Lipatti's show, and he stays out of the way. In both cases, the Philharmonia demonstrates why they were the best in England at the time.

The pianist's own Concertino is significantly less important on all counts, though we should still be grateful to have it at all. Hans von Benda's Berlin Chamber Orchestra proves quite inferior to the Philharmonia, nor is the sound (which makes the piano sound uncomfortably in-your-face) anything to write home about. The work itself is a curio, not exactly trash, but not exactly treasure. The younger and healthier Lipatti does not have a tremendous amount to do – and since it's his own piece, the fault is his – but he still brings his customary artistry and poise to this 1943 recording. The grungy accompaniment can and should be ignored. For the Schumann and Grieg, this is an exceptional purchase.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman