Nelson Freire: Radio Days

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin; Tchaikovsky; Prokofiev; Liszt; Rachmaninov; Schumann
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Radio Days
WORKS: Concert Broadcasts 1968-1979: Piano Concertos by Chopin (No. 1), Tchaikovsky (No. 1), Prokofiev (No. 1), Liszt (No. 2) & Rachmaninov (No. 3); Schumann: Concert Introduction and Allegro
PERFORMER: Nelson Freire (piano); Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Reinhard Peters; Yuri Ahronovitch; Eleazar de Carvalho; NDR Sinfonieorchester/Heinz Wallberg; Orchestre Philharmonique de l’ORTF/Kurt Masur; Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/David Zinman
CATALOGUE NO: 478 6772

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Never was virtuosity purveyed with a lighter touch than in this 70th-birthday celebratory CD. The Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire (interviewed, p46) has recently been enjoying a second flowering. After decades out of the limelight, during which he never stopped performing, he’s suddenly been ‘rediscovered’ and has embarked on new recordings. But this double-CD will represent for most listeners a rediscovery of a different sort, being a collection of radio broadcasts from his youthful heyday. As he recalls in a liner-note interview, the 1968 recording of Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 was his first performance of that work, and he actually warned the promoter that he was not sure he would be able to play it; at the first rehearsal the piano rolled away from him. What we get here is a pellucid account, with the passagework in the Allegro finely articulated, the Larghetto delivered with bewitching grace and the Rondo given lovely dash and swagger.

What is most notable about this collection is the way Freire finds exactly the right idiom for each composer: a perfumed suggestion of the theatre for Tchaikovsky’s First, elfin charm for the young Prokofiev and a quintessentially Russian nostalgia for Rachmaninov. Schumann’s late Introduction and Allegro, the one rarity here, is presented with such conviction that one can (almost) forgive its declamatory, laboured tone. The Liszt Concerto No. 2, callow in parts though it is, comes across with unusual force thanks to the classical discipline of Freire’s touch. The other element which makes this CD gold from start to finish is the orchestral support, with every conductor operating at his peak.

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Michael Church