Legacy: Georges Cziffra

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: CPE Bach,D Scarlatti,JS Bach,Liszt
LABELS: ICA Classics
WORKS: Liszt: Rhapsodie espagnole; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C sharp minor; Funérailles; JS Bach: Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 (trans. Liszt); D Scarlatti: Keyboard Sonatas K159, 284, 446 & 533; CPE Bach: Piano Sonata in B minor, Wq 55/3 – Andantino cantabile
PERFORMER: Georges Cziffra (piano) (recorded live 1955/1959)

Three great pianists, three different styles of pianism. Arthur Rubinstein, recorded in Zurich in 1966, is refined and aristocractic, but full of feeling in the Brahms B flat Concerto, ably supported by the Cologne Radio Symphony under Christoph von Dohnányi. Three years earlier, in a recital in Nijmegen, Rubinstein shows Brahms at his most spiritual and evocative in the B minor Rhapsody, then turns in a wholly delightful account of the B minor Capriccio with the lightest, most harpsichord-like touch. The Chopin items are chaste and tender perfection, every phrase caressed and yet totally without self-indulgence; and the Falla Ritual Fire Dance is a thrillingly unbridled encore. 
Emil Gilels, heard in the Royal Festival Hall in 1967 with the New Philharmonia under Sir Adrian Boult, delivers unshowy, massively intelligent accounts of Beethoven’s First and Third Concertos whose structures are architecturally drawn and finely delineated, with wonderful tone-quality in the two slow movements. More physical, less spiritual than Rubinstein, Gilels nevertheless compels admiration by the total honesty and conviction of his playing. Adrian Boult’s contribution is, as usual, finely articulated and focused. The recording quality is slightly superior to the other discs but there is a good deal of audience noise, especially in the C major Concerto.
Finally Georges Cziffra, in a transcription of a rare recital LP from 1955 – on, as the notes point out, a ‘less than ideal instrument’ – and a live 1959 recital in Turin, provides the most varied repertoire and in some cases the most thrilling playing. One would never guess that in 1950 he had been tortured by the Hungarian Soviet-sponsored regime and his hands deliberately damaged. The CPE Bach, Couperin and Scarlatti items are exemplary in their delicacy, melancholy and irreproachable sense of style. The remaining 45 minutes of the disc is devoted to four big Liszt works – Rhapsodie espagnole, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, a spellbinding account of the virtuoso transcription of the Bach G minor Fantasia and Fugue, and finally a passionate Funérailles. Cziffra’s potent combination of gypsy-like abandon with absolute control of rubato and cumulative build-up makes for very exciting listening. Though it has possibly the worst sound of the three discs, for me this one is probably the real sensation. Calum MacDonald