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Gramophone, June 2012

The Specialist’s Guide #4

In the late 1950s, Cziffra’s recording of his own arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee…seemed to many the result of some electronic trickery; his whip-crack reflexes seemed physically impossible. Cziffra set a new benchmark for bravura pianism, heard at its incandescent best in his own transcriptions of Liszt. The sequence of Cziffra warming up before a BBC TV recital in 1962 is justly celebrated. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, January 2009

Cziffra is always fun to watch because he did such impossible things on a keyboard without even breaking a sweat. And, I reiterate, he was the most musically sensitive of all the super-virtuosos. His Scarlatti is lithe and humorous, the Schumann Toccata jaunty, and the “Heroic” Polonaise of Chopin bristles with earthiness. It should also be noted that the video quality of this DVD is much clearer, less grainy, than the French performances on EMI.

Benno Moiseiwitsch is probably not as well known among Americans as he should be, yet he, like Alfred Cortot, was a master of creating mood, although he sounds somewhat old-fashioned to us nowadays due to his more relaxed concept of rhythm. Thus his Schumann, with its warm, deep-in-the-keys timbre and leisurely pace, strikes us as very different from the more structured, post-modern conceptions of Lipatti, Clara Haskil, or Brendel, but it is certainly valid. The three Fantasiestücke excerpts are the oldest, dating from November 3, 1954…and so have the poorest, grainiest picture quality; ironically, the 1963 performances aren’t too much clearer. (Also quite odd: Moiseiwitsch, who was 73 years old by the time of the second telecast, doesn’t look more than a couple of years older than in his earlier telecast.)

Jed Distler, October 2008

Roller-coaster rhythm, volatile shifts in mood and texture, plus staggering finger-work characterize Cziffra’s keyboard style. His Scarlatti features awesomely articulated arpeggios and trills, while the Schumann Toccata abounds in attention-getting accents, rewritten dynamics, plus speeded-up and pounded out climaxes. Although Chopin’s A-flat Polonaise comes off relatively straight, the interpretation is less about pomp and swagger than complex display. In Cziffra’s Gypsy-like hands, Liszt’s Grand Galop Chromatique becomes a madcap race.

The BBC cameras also preserve Cziffra’s improvisatory aplomb, beginning with some flashy Liszt-meets-Prokofiev virtuosity. This dovetails into a rather slapdash rendition of Chopin’s Op. 10 No. 1 Etude, followed by more Lisztian noodling that includes snatches of Chopin’s Polish Song "The Maiden’s Wish".

Benno Moiseiwitsch’s more relaxed body language and physical economy inform his Schumann’s old-school elegance and natural, singing tone. The same comments apply to an abbreviated version of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody that starts at Variation 17 and continues until the end. Of the three 1962 Jorge Bolet selections, Albéniz’s Triana stands out for the pianist’s gorgeous legato phrasing and effortless textural control. In this context, the well-played but matter-of-fact Chopin Berceuse disappoints. Bolet takes the aforementioned Liszt Galop at a far slower and steadier pace than Cziffra. Granted, the performance is truer to the text, but who can resist Cziffra’s intoxication over Bolet’s sobriety? Notwithstanding this release’s musical ups and downs, it surely will attract piano mavens.

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12:03:28 PM, 5 October 2015
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