WORKS: Piano music by various composers
PERFORMER: Claudio Arrau, Byron Janis, Evgeny Kissin, Zoltán Kocsis, Ivan Moravec, John Ogdon, Sviatoslav Richter, Artur Schnabel, Maria Yudina, Krystian Zimerman (piano), etc
CATALOGUE NO: ADD/DDD mono/stereo
Philips’s edition of great pianists constitutes a parade of distinguished and distinctive personalities. Ivan Moravec’s Chopin (on 456 910-2), drenched with atmosphere, blends poise and fragrance into a seductive potion: few pianists seem so dedicated to producing magical sonorities. Krystian Zimerman’s playing (456 997-2) ranges from freewheeling spontaneity, as in his passionate Brahms B flat Concerto, to poetic strategising in Chopin’s F minor Ballade. Zoltán Kocsis (456 874-2) is a pianist apart.
While most of his colleagues incorporate effort into their expressive arsenal – Claudio Arrau (456 709-2), for example, famously turns technical challenges into rhetorical devices – Kocsis dissolves difficulties in the crucible of technical discipline before applying expression. That his performances satisfy despite such sated prowess is a tribute to his musical instincts.
Evgeny Kissin (456 871-2) may someday achieve similar results; so far his sonority has too much clatter to be alluring, and his formidable seriousness misses the point of the music at times. Collectors’ items include selections from long-unavailable recordings by Byron Janis (456 847-2), who superimposes articulative and dynamic traits of his teacher Vladimir Horowitz on to an altogether plainer and less developed musical personality.
In the Artur Schnabel volume (456 961-2), devoted exclusively to Beethoven, Philips offers the lesser-known but mostly similar 1942 RCA accounts (first released in the Seventies) of the sonatas Opp. 109 and 111 rather than the standard HMV versions from a decade earlier. Inexplicably, Janis (and John Ogdon, heard to advantage on 456 913-2 in Busoni, Rachmaninov, Alkan and Scriabin) will be accorded a second appearance in this edition despite the omission of such luminaries as Guiomar Novaes, Egon Petri, Simon Barere and several impressive living pianists.
With such gaps, a whole volume devoted to Sviatoslav Richter’s uneven Beethoven (456 949-2) also represents unwarrantable luxury, especially since one of the sonatas in which he was particularly stimulating (Op. 54) is not included.