Chopin : 24 Preludes, Epitaph for a Love
Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000) was nothing if not extraordinary. The maverick Austrian was revered in classical and jazz playing alike, and remained a law unto himself.
These recordings, dating from 1954 to 1986 and assembled by his son, Paul, are a fitting tribute to his idiosyncratic artistry: immediate, vibrant, original and at times utterly volcanic.
The 24 Preludes, drawn from two live performances, are a roller-coaster ride, occasionally on the edge of reason – I can’t remember a more manic B flat minor Prelude – yet he shapes the melodic architecture of the more songful preludes with such good sense that you wonder why doesn’t everybody do likewise.
The E minor Concerto is presented in Balakirev’s spiced-up version, which is often rather effective; the 24-year-old Gulda tackles the work with full-blooded passion and poetic instinct, admirably matched by the London Philharmonic and Adrian Boult.
Disc two opens with live Chopin recordings from various concerts including in Trieste and Buenos Aires; here the effect is more variable. In the Four Ballades, the adrenaline of performance often overrides the music’s more subtle elements; the Third in particular goes at a gallop.
Startling beauties abound in his Nocturnes, though, and the crowning surprise is Gulda’s own Epitaph für eine Liebe, extrapolated from a starting point of Chopin’s C minor Prelude and attentively reconstructed by Paul Gulda from several recordings; here Gulda’s free-range expressive style is his alone (but beware of his singing!).
Paul Gulda’s booklet essay offers an affectionate, insightful introduction to his father: a ‘man of extremes’ indeed. Jessica Duchen