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Steve Arloff
MusicWeb International, November 2012

The first thing that struck me about this CD was the clarity of sound considering the age of the recording. It’s hats off to Peter Reynolds for a brilliant job of re-mastering the tapes for their first ever release on CD. As I believe is often the case with those performances one hears for the first time, Cziffra’s interpretation of the Grieg became my aural benchmark against which, knowingly or not, all others have been judged down the years…as far as I’m concerned I’ve never heard anyone play the Grieg piano concerto better. In Cziffra’s electrifying performance every single note is telling making for the most complete account I can ever imagine hearing. Reading this you might think that Cziffra found it more difficult to be tender when required, only really being able to portray the tumultuous sounds, but that thought is dispelled as soon as the second movement gets under way. Following a brilliant opening movement in which the main theme is fairly hammered to the musical mast, the Adagio is caressed and set as a wonderfully crafted contrast to the two outer movements. The final movement is eventually seized and driven on to its scintillating conclusion, though not before the first half of it is quietly restrained with the notes gently coaxed into being, setting up the last five minutes to be driven almost manically along to a conclusion that releases the audience’s eruption of applause. The performance may well divide listeners but it is certainly not one you are likely to feel ambivalent about. That will surely be the case with anything Cziffra touched. His Liszt is renowned for its fantastic shows of pianistic energy. However, the first movement of Liszt’s 1st concerto is as gently portrayed as anyone could want. The opening of the second movement is also beautifully light and dreamy though the darker levels are hinted at along the way leading from Quasi adagio into Allegretto vivace - Allegro animato and the kind of playing that elicited the statement from Dupré that Cziffra was Liszt’s reincarnation. The concerto is brought to a characteristically brilliant conclusion that leaves one breathless in awe and admiration. This is again underlined by the storm of applause from the audience. I watched a short video of Cziffra playing Liszt’s Grand gallop chromatique. There the full extent of his amazing abilities are plain to see as his hands each appear to have more than five fingers as they rush across the keys. His fingers seem to have been extremely long.

The two concertos are followed by another great demonstration of Lisztian showmanship: the Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Themes S123. It is often said that this or that soloist has a particular music in their blood; that cannot be truer than in this case since Cziffra’s heritage was from the Roma community. His father was a player of that most emblematic instrument of the Hungarian gypsy, the cimbalom. His account of this rich and exciting work is extremely authentic as you would expect with Cziffra’s fingers dancing up and down the keyboard as the piano mimics the cimbalom most convincingly. You can hear this particularly around 13 minutes in as the piece rushes towards its stunning climax which gives way once more to the audience’s enthusiastic reaction.

Apparently Cziffra loved the miniatures that he reserved for his encores. The disc concludes with two delightful pieces, a beautifully restrained account of Lully’s Gavotte en rondeau in D minor and Scarlatti’s Sonata in D major K96 ‘La Chasse’. These leave you wanting more which is the perfect way for any artist to finish a concert.

…Cziffra is right up there with the greatest. I cannot praise this disc too highly and if you do not know Cziffra you are indeed lucky to have this chance to hear him at the very peak of his powers. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Chris Hathaway
Classical 91.7 KUHA, November 2012

Cziffra’s highly energetic, rhapsodic and totally masculine reading of the Grieg Concerto—marked by the Cziffra characteristics of a willingness to take risks and to get the very most out of the music—is a welcome addition to the catalogue…Cziffra is…a consummately tasteful pianist who knows every aspect of his instrument and how to exploit each one to the fullest. Being Georges Cziffra, of course, his octave passages and rapid filigree work are electrifying; the orchestra and conductor are in close partnership with him. A soulful bassoon solo in the middle of the first movement is particularly effective—with more vibrato and presence than one would expect of an orchestral bassoon player—and bear in mind that this is a broadcast recording, and there are no mixing tricks to give the bassoon greater prominence. The wonderful sense of fantasy and pianistic approximation of orchestral textures and a thrilling sense of the lower end of the piano in the cadenza of the first movement sound almost improvisational, like a more accurate Ervin Nyeregyházi. The second movement is all tenderness, and that marvelous sense of the lower end of the piano returns in the finale. Cziffra really understands Grieg. He is getting the orchestra on his own level—a brief flute solo in the finale is on a par with the bassoon solo in the first movement. He also has a sense of Grieg as he must have sounded as an extemporaneous player. At the end, the audience cannot restrain itself.

The Liszt E-flat Concerto is Cziffra in his element. Even in the limited-range monaural recording, the same sense of the bass of the piano—indeed, of all aspects of the piano—comes forth in vivid splendor. The violin solo in the first movement, which Liszt directs to be played by two violins, seems to be done in accord with the composer’s wishes…In the slow movement, Cziffra’s ability to change touch and tone as if on a whim is dazzlingly remarkable. Even his prolonged trills and tremolandi are full of color and meaning, expressive rather than mere pyrotechnics. His sense of delicacy and color in the scherzo…is noteworthy. This is musical virtuosity at its height.

The Hungarian Fantasia is a real demonstration of the pianist’s deep affinity for Liszt. All of the above-mentioned Cziffra virtues are superabundantly present. The orchestra responds to him as in the concerto…this is a performance for the ages, and it was indeed fortunate that it got recorded. That it is not a stereo spectacular does not matter in the least. It’s a spectacular, period.

The well-known Scarlatti D-major Sonata is a virtuoso work, and there is no lacking of virtuosity in this performance…The Cziffra virtues of a sense of the piano’s lower end, of pyrotechnics like rapid repeated notes and embellishments of all kinds are all present here, and they are thrilling; but all of these are very much in the spirit of Scarlatti. He gets a well-deserved hearty hand for each. © 2012 Classical 91.7 KUHA Read complete review

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