For all the wrong notes and dubious wartime record, Alfred Cortot was, undoubtedly, one of the great pianists of the twentieth century. This Naxos Historical CD allows us, due to the excellent restoration work by Mark Obert-Thorn, to hear Cortot with orchestra, rather than soloist or chamber musician.
The disc opens with César Franck's "Symphonic Variations" which is on the whole Franck's happiest and most brilliant work. Cortot plays with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Landon Ronald in this 1934 recording, one which remained in the catalogue until well into the 1950s. A good modern alternative comes from Joel Thiollier, also on Naxos Franck- Symphonic Variations
Next we have one of Camille Saint-SaŽns piano concertos, the less well-known No.4 in C minor, Op.44. This is musically a finer and more consistent work than the better-known Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor Op.22. Like the concertos of Liszt, it is really in one continuous movement, although the three-movement scheme is still apparent, and it is built on a broad chorale-like theme, which appears boldly in the final section of the work. The A flat episode at the end of the first section, despite its obvious debt to Liszt, has a moving beauty that is rare in Saint-Säens music. Cortot gives a wonderful performance and the recording, made with Charles Munch and Orchestra, is very good for its 1935 date. A good modern alternative comes from Collard Saint-Saens: Piano Concertos 1-5 etc.
Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left hand is next, in a recording with Charles Munch and L'Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Paris, recorded in 1939. Cortot slips several notes in this recording of this curious and dramatic work. Aimard and Boulez have recently issued a great modern alternative Ravel: Piano Concertos / Miroirs
The CD closes with a small piano piece. This is Saint-SaŽns' Etude in the form of a Waltz, recorded in 1931.
Recommended to those who, like me, enjoy historic recordings.