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Steve Arloff
MusicWeb International, April 2011

I often think how lucky future generations will be when they delve into the past. There is, I suspect, almost no area of human activity that has not been catalogued on film, in books, on DVDs, videos, the internet and CDs. Provided all these resources stay intact and future generations have the technologies to access the information then they will be much luckier than historians from the past who had to work much harder to unlock the secrets of the past. In musical terms what a wealth of material they will have to dive into! I have just read in BBC Music Magazine that work has been done on original matrices to present on CD recordings made by Grieg in Paris in 1903! Aren’t we lucky!

This is by way of an introduction to this disc of the last ever recital by one of the all-time greats of the piano. The recital has been issued before on LP and CD but never as cleanly and crisply as on this one. Mark Obert-Thorn, that genius in the field of audio restoration, has done an incredible job.

Dinu Lipatti (1917–1950) was a phenomenon that occurs very rarely. He was such a perfectionist that his recorded legacy barely fills five CDs. He would not, for instance record Beethoven, saying he would require four years practice before he would commit the ‘Emperor’ concerto to disc! He confined his playing to a small number of composers and, together with Schumann, rarely played any other than those represented on this disc: Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Chopin. However, what truly sublime playing we get to hear due to his fastidiousness. It is, therefore, small wonder that he has reached cult status along with pianists like Glenn Gould and a few others. Beginning his piano studies at the age of 8 he won second prize at the Vienna International Piano Competition at the age of 17. The fact that he was not awarded first prize caused jury member Alfred Cortot (no less) to resign in protest and to invite the young Lipatti to study with him in Paris. There he was also fortunate to have lessons in composition from Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger. The cruel hand of fate struck at the early age of 26 in 1943 when he was diagnosed with a form of leukaemia that would claim his life only seven years later. Although he did tour Europe he had to cancel planned visits to the USA and Australia and also a planned recording session in London for Columbia. The equipment was sent to Geneva where between 3 and 12 July 1950 he made some of his most famous recordings—a kind of last testament to his genius. The final track is from this session as he was too ill to include it in his last ever recital which occupies all the other tracks on this disc. At that recital he was so weak that he had to be helped to the piano and, against his doctors’ advice gave the performance here recorded. He died aged 33 less than three months later. When you think of the state of physical exhaustion and hopelessness he was afflicted with it is truly remarkable to hear this disc. There is no hint of any of this in his playing which is magisterial, exhibiting power and a love for the music that inhabits every note. Just listen to the presto of Mozart’s Sonata No.8 or Schubert’s Impromptu No.3 for example. It all makes for very emotional listening coupled with astonishment at what a true genius can achieve with iron determination against such overwhelming odds. Lipatti was like a comet lighting up the musical sky and one that comes around very infrequently but what glory there is when we are privileged to be witness to it! This is a disc to cherish and to relish at every playing.

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