About this Recording
8.111366 - LIPATTI, Dinu: Last Recital - BACH, J.S. / MOZART, W.A. / SCHUBERT, F. / CHOPIN, F. (1950)

Dinu Lipatti (1917–1950): The Last Recital
Bach • Mozart • Schubert • Chopin


Named Contantin by his parents, but always known as Dinu, Lipatti was born into a cultivated and musical family with a violinist father who had studied with Pablo de Sarasate and Carl Flesch, whilst his mother was a pianist. Lipatti was a frail child so his parents did not send him to school but employed tutors. His first formal piano lessons, at the age of eight, were with Mihail Jora who prepared Lipatti for entrance to the Bucharest Conservatory at the age of eleven where he studied with Florica Musicescu. During his time at the Conservatory Lipatti performed the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, and in 1932 he graduated at the age of fifteen with a performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11.

At the age of seventeen Lipatti was awarded second prize at the Vienna International Piano Competition, a fact that caused jury member Alfred Cortot to resign in protest that Lipatti had not won first prize. Cortot invited Lipatti to study with him at his École Normale de Musique in Paris where he also received piano lessons from Cortot’s assistant Yvonne Lefébure and studied composition with Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger.

It was in 1943, at the age of 26, that Lipatti was diagnosed with lymphogranulomatosis, a form of leukaemia that would take his life only seven years later. He left Romania, where he had been teaching and composing since the outbreak of the Second World War, and toured in Sweden, Finland and Germany, from where he travelled to Switzerland. After the War he toured and performed in Europe but cancelled tours of America and Australia owing to ill health. He remained optimistic but had to contend with relapses, suffering fever, pain and physical weakness. He described his state of health in a letter to Paul Sacher, ‘It is not the suffering which eats me up but the constant relapses which never stop. No one can imagine the strain. In this state I cannot play, compose nor even write letters.’

While on tour in the Netherlands in January 1949 Lipatti suffered a particularly bad relapse, which caused him to return to Geneva immediately and cancel engagements for a year. Again, his health vacillated: in June he wrote to Musicescu that his health was improving, yet by September he wrote, ‘As was feared, a new crisis has left me immobilized in bed.’ However, by February 1950 he was well enough to play Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, with Ernest Ansermet in Geneva and played more concerts in Lucerne, Zurich and Berne. It was at this time, through help and financial support from his friends, that Lipatti began to use the new American drug cortisone. This gave his health such a boost that he was able to contemplate a series of recording sessions for Columbia. He was not well enough to travel to London to record, so equipment was sent to Geneva and between the 3 and 12 July Lipatti set down some of his most famous recordings—a last testament to his genius as performer and artist.

Near the end of August 1950 he performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto, K. 467, with Karajan at the Lucerne Festival and then began to prepare for a recital at the Besançon Festival on 16 September. With renewed strength provided by the cortisone, Lipatti had plans to travel to London to record Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, and perform the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 by Schumann at the Albert Hall with Furtwängler. Whether false optimism, or just wanting to present a brave face to the world, Lipatti wrote to Musicescu two days before the Besançon concert, ‘Splendidly back on my feet. Little by little my vitality and my muscular strength are returning.’ However, on the day of the recital his wife stated that the doctors attempted to persuade Lipatti to cancel, but he refused, and at the rehearsal the day before, he was ‘in a state of utter collapse and could hardly drag himself to the concert hall to try out the piano.’ On the day of the concert he was ‘choking and on the point of fainting.’ According to his wife he had no strength to play the last of the fourteen Chopin Waltzes—‘Broken by fatigue and hardly able to breathe, Dinu had the courage to offer them the Bach Chorale in G which became his swansong…’

Lipatti died a few months later on 2 December 1950.

It is not surprising that Lipatti achieved cult status in the years following his death at the age of only 33. Lipatti was an extremely sensitive musician and a man whose approach to the piano was one of utter fastidiousness, always striving for perfection in every aspect of his interpretation and performance. The programme of the Besançon concert contained repertoire that Lipatti had recorded for Columbia a few months before but a live performance is always different from a studio recording. The concert was broadcast and it is this radio recording that is presented here, although it would appear that the Bach encore mentioned by his wife was not recorded. It is interesting to hear that Lipatti plays modulating passages between works, something that was far more common in the early twentieth century and sometimes heard in later years from Shura Cherkassky. The Bach Partita, which opens the programme, is often almost austere, but the Allemande has a grace and buoyancy and Lipatti does not run away with the Gigue but keeps a strict and firm hold on the reins. Throughout there is a clarity of sound which was a hallmark of Lipatti’s playing and the same facet can be heard in the Mozart Sonata. Evenness of attack and scrupulous attention to gradation of dynamics is everywhere evident and while the first movement can often sound aggressive, in Lipatti’s hands it becomes almost stoical. A perfect tempo for the Andante prevents it from dragging.

The impassioned energy of the G flat Impromptu by Schubert is released by the sunny and glistening Impromptu in E flat which displays Lipatti’s flawlessly even scale technique. The fourteen Chopin Waltzes are played in the order that Lipatti chose for performance but according to his wife, he was too physically weak to play the last Waltz in A flat, Op. 34 No. 1, so it is included here from his commercial recording of a few months before. The Waltzes are chaste and elegant, shot through with nobility and a firm rhythmic foundation.

© 2011 Jonathan Summers


Producer’s Note

The primary sources for the present transfer of the recital were first edition British LP pressings. The original LPs had been transferred from acetates recorded from the broadcast of the recital. The sound as presented there was muffled, and featured several instances of pitch instability. I have tried to open up the sound as much as possible through equalization, and have corrected the pitch problems. I have also appended Lipatti’s studio recording of the one Chopin waltz he was unable to play at the recital due to exhaustion from his illness, in order to complete the set.

Mark Obert-Thorn

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