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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, 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.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2007

Issued under the title 'Encores'this is a sweeping up exercise in Naxos's on-going series of Cortot recordings, the recordings offering a taste of one of the great and unpredictable pianists of his time. Born in Switzerland in 1877, he moved to Paris as a child and was always considered as a multi-talented French musician. He was to become a highly respected conductor, part of the greatest piano trio of his time, a teacher and, of course, a concert pianist. That he could be totally erratic seemed to only boost his stage image, his tempos often so optimistic that his fingers were unable to cope - the excerpt from Chopin's Ballade recording in 1925 (track 5) a perfect example. While he was generally regarded as the leading Chopin exponent, it was Liszt that afforded him scope to nourish his desire for musical fantasy, his Hungarian Rhapsodies totally free in structure, The delicacy he invests in the filigree passages of the Eleventh are ravishing, then he ruins it with a rush of blood to the head as he dashes to the finishing line. That is, in fact, the story of the whole disc, with tracks that should have been trashed when they were originally made, and moments of absolute magic. Maybe that is the price you pay for a genius and for Cortot fans this is indispensable. The transfers are wonderful and belie their 1925-6 origins.

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