Following his still-little-known first account with Enrique Jorda on the podium and made nine years before his celebrated partnership with George Szell and the LSO, this is Clifford Curzon’s second recording for Decca of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto, a work which defined his reputation in the 1950s and early 60s as an imperious yet deeply introspective artist, just as his later work on Mozart with Benjamin Britten and Beethoven with Boulez revealed more spontaneously lyrical and less rigorous aspects to his pianism.
And for all that Curzon was renowned in this work for ‘revealing the inner soul of Brahms’ (Fanfare), his partnership with Eduard van Beinum never underplays the bold and craggy drama of the work or the sense of it as a young man’s statement to the world, in terms of both Brahms the would-be symphonic composer and Brahms the fully-formed keyboard lion of his age.
The Concerto is complemented here by the two Brahms overtures which Van Beinum recorded in December 1952 for Decca (mono) and then again in 1958 in stereo for Philips (reissued on Eloquence 442 9788). These earlier mono accounts are less familiar and more dynamically impetuous but the relationship between orchestra and conductor in this music had already been forged by two Decca recordings of the First Symphony (in 1947 and 1951). These performances share a proto-symphonic, rugged grandeur which is apt to the symphony. They were recorded as part of a month of sessions which took in the Haydn Variations as well as symphonies by Haydn and Schubert and ‘En Saga’ and ‘Tapiola’ of Sibelius which have also been reissued as part of Eloquence’s ongoing revival of Van Beinum’s legacy on record. The Concerto recording from just six months later took place in sessions also supervised by the legendary Decca producer, John Culshaw.
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
Tragic Overture, Op. 81*
Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80*
Clifford Curzon, piano
Eduard van Beinum
*FIRST CD RELEASE ON DECCA
Recording Producer: John Culshaw
Balance Engineer: Kenneth Wilkinson
Recording Location: Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, November–December 1952 (Overtures), May–June 1953 (Concerto)
Original Decca LP Releases: LXT 2825 (Concerto); LXT 2778 (Overtures)
Remastering Engineer: Chris Bernauer
Eloquence Series Producer: Cyrus Meher-Homji
‘Mr. Curzon offers a more relaxed, slower, warmer performance [than Serkin], adjectives that can be used also about Mr. van Beinum’s conception of the work. The orchestral sound is full and clearly defined, and Mr. Curzon’s solid tone stands out in admirable relief … The Adagio is superb in its delicacy, poignancy, and tragic implications, and the last movement, given a slower, more lyric treatment, seems less elephantine than it sometimes does. High Fidelity (Piano Concerto No.1)
‘Curzon/van Beinum score their points by verve and dexterity, a more persistent rubato, a sharper narrative [than Backhaus/Böhm] … Sound excellent … brighter and more detailed in Amsterdam.’ High Fidelity (Piano Concerto No.1)