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Classic FM, April 2011

Schumann’s sole piano concerto evolved from a one-movement Fantasy that he wrote for his wife, Clara. The finished version, in three movements, retained much fantasia-like character and was clearly influenced by Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto in its opening piano flourish, the link between the last two movements and the intricate, dancing rhythms of the finale. The initial allegro affetuoso is by turns brooding, soulful and impassioned; the slow movement is a gentle intermezzo in which piano and orchestra seem to converse and the finale is triumphant.

Alfred Cortot captured its character to glorious effect and responds powerfully to the concerto’s love-song aspect.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Cortot, who recorded so much Chopin between the wars and for so many embodied the spirit of Chopin at that period, never committed the E minor Concerto to disc. The Second, recorded in 1935 at the Abbey Road Studios, sounds wonderfully fresh and is as individual as one would expect from this great artist. Mark Obert-Thorn gets a very good sound from the shellac originals.

Mortimer H. Frank
Fanfare, June 2001

"This is one of the more interesting items in Naxos's burgeoning historical series. The Schumann, produced in 1934, is (amazingly) the third of three recordings of the work made by Cortot (all done with Landon Ronald). It is an account that anyone interested in the history of performance practice should hear. Not that it is a great reading. In fact it is downright sloppy, with Cortot dropping more than a few notes, and the orchestra sounding occasionally scruffy. Moreover, the pianist's execution is so free that it is often impossible to discern a pulse. Among modern accounts, the Argerich-Harnoncourt reading is the freest 1 know, yet compared to this one it is a paradigm of strictness. It is probably safe to say that no one today would play this work as Cortot did. This is why the performance should be heard. It is a document of a style that-even if a bit extreme for its time-most likely did not seem as outrageous as it now does.

"The Chopin commands less interest, partly because (unlike the Schumann) it has appeared in a few CD editions. Here, too, Cortot's playing is free, but it seems less bizarre than in the Schumann, partly because the looser structure of this score is more tolerant of such an approach, but also because Cortot is in somewhat better control here.

"As one has come to expect, Marc Obert-Thorn's transfers are first-rate. The Chopin is refreshingly quiet without suffering excessive filtering, and side joins are seamless. The Schumann is almost as good. Probably because of a lack of prime sources, there is some grit in the slow movement and the finale up to the point of the fugato. Otherwise the sound is comparable to that of the Chopin, and boasts considerably greater presence and clarity than in an EMI LP edition of about 22 years ago. At its bargain price this release should prove highly attractive to those with specialized interests."

Leslie Gerber
Fanfare, April 2001

"Naxos 8.110612 offers Cortot's splendid performances of the Schumann Concerto (1934 version, with Ronald) and Chopin Second (with Barbirolli, from 1935), with the sound brilliantly restored by Mark Obert-thorn."

David Hurwitz, January 2001

"These classic performances require no additional accolades from me. They were great; they remain great. Alfred Cortot recorded the Schumann concerto twice electrically, and this disc contains his second (and better) of the two performances. ...Both concertos find this sometimes frustratingly careless artist at his best. Every note matters: Cortot fills the music with characteristic nuances of touch and phrasing while never losing sight of the long line. In particular, the highly ornamented melodies of the slow movement of the Chopin concerto offer a positive clinic on the poetic use of rubato for maximum expressive effect. Sonically, these mid-1930s recordings balance the piano nicely against orchestral accompaniments that are clear but not lacking in body, even if typically restricted in dynamic range. Mark Obert-Thorn's transfers retain the warmth and clarity, while minimizing surface noise... If you haven't heard these seminal performances, now's the time."

David Cairns
, November 2000

"THE CLARITY and warmth of the Naxos transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn achieve wonders with these recordings, made in the mid-1930s. They enable us to appreciate the art of Alfred Cortot as rarely before. The great French pianist was famous for his wrong notes and (in later years) memory lapses, but also for his magical touch and lovely singing tone and a flexibility of phrasing and movement as natural as breathing. In his enchanting account of Chopin's Piano Concerto No 2, the tempo is constantly varied, but always within a strong rhythmic framework. The more challenging Schumann Piano Concerto has its blemishes, especially in the finale, but the sweep and subtlety of Cortot's playing in the opening movement and the charm of the intermezzo are remarkable by any standards."

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