, December 2007
Naxos has been restoring Cortot’s acoustic and electric recordings with commendable assiduity. Here we have early electrics recorded between 1925 and 1926 for Victor in Camden, New Jersey and they make for memorable listening.
Each side has inimitable virtues. Schubert’s Litany for example courses with manifold voicings, shadings and colours; the left hand is in constant painterly motion, and it brings richness and poetry to the playing. Chopin’s A flat major Etude sports rubati that roll back and forth like waves, a perpetual play of time held in check and released. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.11 is dispatched with leonine power, its drama matched by moments of playfulness and wit, all served up with Cortot’s seemingly limitless battalions of colour. Cortot’s Liszt is a vortex of drama and projection uncompromised by weakness or limitation, The Weber is an Invitation indeed – vivacious and full of verve. We can hear it in two takes made two months apart – both were issued on Victor 1201; there are also two performances of the Hungarian Rhapsody already noted; one from March 1925 and never issued on 78, the other from December 1926 and released on Victor 1277.
Mark Obert-Thorn’s note on the subject clears up what will be for some a peculiarity. “Part Two” (only) of the G minor Ballade was released on English HMV DB853. Twenty-one months later Cortot recorded the Ballade again, which was then issued on Victor 6612 – it wasn’t merely a case of “adding” Part One. Both performances it should be noted contain a veritable arsenal of dropped notes.
In short then Cortot’s Victors have a secure repository here. Not all the alternative takes are included, collectors will notice, but the disc is packed to the rafters in any case. Including them would have necessitated a companion but very brief appendix disc and there would be little genuine call for that, beyond the needs of highly specialist collectors. Obert-Thorn’s transfers are commendably vital.