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Great Pianists of the 20th Century - György Cziffra


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Product details

  • Performer: György Cziffra
  • Composer: Franz Liszt, Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin
  • Audio CD (24 May 1999)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Great Pianists of the 20th Century
  • ASIN: B00000IX8D
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 69,970 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Disc: 1
1. Polonaise No. 2 In E
2. 'Annees de pelerinage': Sonetto 123 del Petrarca
3. Fantasy And Fugue On The Name B-A-C-H: Fantasy
4. Fantasy And Fugue On The Name B-A-C-H: Fugue
5. Etude de Concert No. 3 In D Flat 'Un sospiro'
6. 'Annees de pelerinage': Tarantella
7. Etude de Concert No. 2 In F Minor 'La leggierezza'
8. 'St. Francois de Paule marchant sur les flots': Legende No. 2
9. Etude d'execution transcendante No. 12: Chasse-neige
10. 'La muette de Portici': Tarantella di bravura
See all 11 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. Etudes, Op. 10: No. 1 In C
2. Etudes, Op. 10: No. 2 In A Minor
3. Etudes, Op. 10: No. 3 In E 'Tristesse'
4. Etudes, Op. 10: No. 4 In C Sharp Minor
5. Etudes, Op. 10: No. 5 In G Flat 'Black Keys'
6. Etudes, Op. 10: No. 6 In E Flat Minor
7. Etudes, Op. 10: No. 7 In C
8. Etudes, Op. 10: No. 8 In F
9. Etudes, Op. 10: No. 9 In F Minor
10. Etudes, Op. 10: No. 10 In A Flat
See all 25 tracks on this disc

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 28 Mar 2002
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I guess that if you like Horowitz you will like Cziffra. His career was all too short, ending abruptly on the tragic death of his son. He was a Hungarian gipsy born in 1921 and dying in 1991, the year that also saw Serkin, Kempff and Arrau summoned away in short order. By now I have lost track of the pianists I have seen described as ultimate technicians -- Hoffman, Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Michelangeli, Argerich, Pollini, Gavrilov, Kissin and of course the obligatory Richter among others.
My own two finalists in that particular competition would be Michelangeli and Cziffra. Michelangeli is sui generis, a different pianistic animal from any of the others. Cziffra is in something like the 19th century virtuoso tradition as I know it from Hoffman and Rachmaninoff. Speeds are typically fast, as they were from Rachmaninoff, and virtuosity is a key element in Cziffra's way of expressing the music. This is entirely as it should be in my opinion. When Cziffra's career was at its height something dangerously like staidness was in vogue, and something known as 'virtuosity for its own sake' was widely viewed as a Bad Thing. I have never even known what it was supposed to be, let alone why it was such a bad thing, but I recall Cziffra falling foul of this particular critical waffle, and it goes a long way to explain why he is not better known. Anyway Cziffra treated technical brilliance as an integral part of the musical expression in certain pieces, and rightly so say I. Why playing brilliant pieces in an unbrilliant way should be considered a plus for expressiveness is the bit I have never understood.
The recorded sound is rather hard in the Chopin studies, much better in the Polonaise, where it is interesting to compare him with Horowitz.
Read more ›
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Mar 2001
EMI have just reissued Cziffra's electrifying recording [1975] of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies [No.2, 6, 8 - 15] in their 'Great Recordings of the Century' series. This Philips 2CD set of Chopin and Liszt in their 'Great Pianists of the 20th Century' edition is also worthy of that accolade. Cziffra escaped from war torn Hungary with his wife and young son having earlier given a stunning account of Bartok's second concerto at the Erkèl Thèàtre Budapest on 22nd October 1956, the eve of the Hungarian insurrection [EMI Rèferènces]. He crossed the border into Austria where he commenced a meteoric career. His first recital at the Brahmsaal Vienna set the Danube aflame and was hailed as an 'historic event' - news of Cziffra's phenomenal playing even reached The New Yorker! On that occasion Cziffra not only delighted his Viennese audience [and critics] with his Mozart [Sonata in A minor K310] and Beethoven [32 Variations in C minor] but he also astounded them with his great Liszt playing; also his own transcriptions [given as encores] of Strauss's 'Voices of Spring' and Bizet's Carmen. Later he made audiences gasp in amazement at his own arrangement [in octaves!] of Rimsky-Korsakoff's 'Flight of the Bumble-Bee'.The Viennese audience can consider themselves very fortunate to have heard Cziffra play 'live' - especially in Liszt. I also consider myself lucky to have heard the great pianist play Liszt's first concerto and Hungarian Fantasy with the Hallè Orchestra in Manchester in 1959. Cziffra was so rapturously received that he played a bouquet of scintillating encores that brought the house down and had critics searching for their most colourful superlatives.Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 12 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
A portrait of a sadly under-rated master 21 Nov 1999
By Charles Milton Ling - Published on Amazon.com
Two things first. I wrote "master", not "virtuoso" quite intentionally. And yes, Cziffra was the virtuoso supreme of the instrument he had made his own, and vice versa. I wrote "master" because Cziffra's abilities extended far beyond his spectacular ability to make the piano his servant; to transcend all the obstacles a composer may have placed in his way. There is much more to Cziffra than we will learn from these CDs; but from these CDs we will learn why the mere mention of Cziffra's name can take the breath away of those who were fortunate enough to see him, and indeed also of those he taught. "A Keyboard Master and His Limitations" is the translation of the heading Peter Cossé gives to his - masterful indeed - comments on these CDs. A more literal translation would have been "The Almighty and His Limits". Yes, as far as technique is concerned, Cziffra is second to none. This is displayed to brilliant, almost disconcerting, effect on the CD works by Liszt. It has to be heard... Chopin? To be quite honest, I feel Cziffra does several of the études a disfavour by demonstrating how excitingly/quickly they can be played (by him). These, then, are the limitations posed by a brilliant talent unreined. But in op. 25 nos. 10 - 12, we are on ground where only the most capable should dare to tread. Cziffra's interpretation has no equal. For this alone, this CD is more than worth its price. This is one of the most important moments in pianism. To say more would be to say less.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
SOME KIND OF ULTIMATE 11 Aug 2003
By DAVID BRYSON - Published on Amazon.com
I guess that if you like Horowitz you will like Cziffra. His career was all too short, ending abruptly on the tragic death of his son. He was a Hungarian gipsy born in 1921 and dying in 1991, the year that also saw Serkin, Kempff and Arrau summoned away in short order. By now I have lost track of the pianists I have seen described as ultimate technicians -- Hofmann, Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Michelangeli, Argerich, Pollini, Gavrilov, Kissin and of course the obligatory Richter among others. My own two finalists in that particular competition would be Michelangeli and Cziffra. Michelangeli is sui generis, a different pianistic animal from any of the others. Cziffra is in something like the 19th century virtuoso tradition as I know it from Hofmann and Rachmaninoff. Speeds are typically fast, as they were from Rachmaninoff, and virtuosity is a key element in Cziffra's way of expressing the music. This is entirely as it should be in my opinion. When Cziffra's career was at its height something dangerously like staidness was in vogue, and something known as 'virtuosity for its own sake' was widely viewed as a Bad Thing. I have never even known what it was supposed to be, let alone why it was such a bad thing, but I recall Cziffra falling foul of this particular critical waffle, and it goes a long way to explain why he is not better known. Anyway Cziffra treated technical brilliance as an integral part of the musical expression in certain pieces, and rightly so say I. Why playing brilliant pieces in an unbrilliant way should be considered a plus for expressiveness is the bit I have never understood.
The recorded sound is rather hard in the Chopin studies, much better in the Polonaise, where it is interesting to compare him with Horowitz. In the middle section both are absolutely dumbfounding, the main difference being that Cziffra does not go through his tone as Horowitz does. This was something that Horowitz carried off with aplomb, but something everyone else has had the good sense not to copy. Where I like Cziffra very much better is at the start, where Horowitz deploys a peculiar dry touch that he was sometimes prone to adopt on inappropriate occasions. Rubinstein pedals heavily here, which is fine by me, but Cziffra's finger-legato is easily the best way. In the studies I would not say that I prefer Cziffra to the fine sets by Ashkenazy (here at his all-too-rare best) or Pollini. It's near-impossible to rank three such players in 24 short pieces. What I would ask you not to believe is the booklet, which nearly falls into the 'virtuosity for its own sake' morass. There is plenty of soul and expressiveness from Cziffra here, although the hard recorded sound doesn't help. I don't believe, for instance, that Cziffra banged at the bass in the 'butterfly' study or the one in sixths the way he comes across as recorded here.
In the Liszt pieces if you take away the virtuosity there is little or nothing left, but virtuosity plus belief like this almost had me taking them seriously as music, which is saying a lot. They are simply astounding, and I apologise for using such a term to anyone who is as weary of it as I am. This time it's true. In the very last resort Cziffra seems to me even more of a virtuoso wonder than Horowitz, and this playing is full of heart, soul and fire. I do not know whether as a Hungarian Cziffra represents some specially authentic Lisztian tradition. What I do know is that he does more for Liszt as far as I am concerned than anyone else has ever done.
There is actually an account of the op25 Chopin studies that is surprisingly like Cziffra's. It is a historical reissue, it is not madly well recorded, and it comes from a quarter you might not expect. It is by Serkin, and it comes with the new biography of him issued earlier this year.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
No Brakes 8 Jan 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
I give this collection 5 stars because I know of no recorded piano playing like it (except other earlier Cziffra recordings such as the "Live in Italy" stuff which I haven't seen available in years). I don't mean to imply that it's necessarily more impressive than Horowitz during the great days (the "Homage to Liszt" album must be some sort of unique standard in all of pianism) or some of the best playing by Byron Janis (Liszt Concerti, for example) or Argerich's best et al. It is different, though, in its unique combination of speed, power and knife-in-the-teeth abandon.
The Liszt disc is far more "chaste" than the Chopin Etudes which, let's face it, often sound like the musical equivalent of a fun-house mirror. I bumped into the recording while I was in London in 1964 or '65, took it back to my student colleagues at the Oberlin Conservatory (all aspiring pianists, as I was then) and it became the hands-down Friday night favorite (along with Gallo Sherry, if I remember correctly, and Nancarrow Etudes for Player Piano). Some of the virtuosity can scarcely be believed -- such as the Op. 10 #4 (but Richter is even faster on the "Richter The Enigma" video, if you can imagine) -- the Op. 10 #12 and the "Octave" Etude from Op. 25.
But he DOES struggle terribly with Op. 10 #2 (compare it to the early Ashkenazy which is mind-boggling) and many of the other pieces are simply stomped through without any concern for phrasing or architecture. But what a wild ride! And what guts to record them this way!
(Recommendation: if you can find the old Paul Badura-Skoda recording of the complete Chopin Etudes, don't hesitate. I know it seems an unlikely pairing of pianist and music, but just listen! The fastest Winter Wind ever, the most amazing Op. 10 #1 except for Anievas, etc. etc. And, by the way, why is Cziffra's "Winter Wind" a half tone sharp? Of all pianists, he doesn't needed to be tempo twisted.)
I said the Liszt was more "chaste" but don't mean to imply it's less virtuosic than the Chopin. It comes from an era when I would guess Cziffra wasn't bored with the music or, to put it another way, didn't see a need to fuss with phrasing just to keep himself interested. Compare, for instance, the first set of Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies with the one recorded for EMI in the mid 70's. The later interpretations, once again, are beginning to sound neurotic -- even psychotic -- and the pianistic mechanism has started to fade somewhat, but wow what a trip. The end of the Ninth Rhapsody (Carnival of Pest) or the end of the Thirteenth is like being on a rollercoaster with no brakes and the tracks out ahead . . .
I guess my attraction for the best of Cziffra's playing is the sense that there's something of a struggle involved pianistically (even though the "Live from the BBC" video shows a man scarcely breaking a sweat) and also the feeling that he was a spirit who had to overcome so many social, political and personal problems.
I'm afraid I can't agree that Cziffra's playing was superior to Horowitz's in any fashion whatsoever. And yet I constantly cull the bins to see if there's a forgotten Cziffra album or CD out there. I can't say that about Horowitz.
In any case, my strong recommendation is to buy these discs, put on a hat, and hold on to it.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Virtuosity at its highest 19 Oct 2001
By V. Vo - Published on Amazon.com
I've owned this set for over a year now, and I still can't believe the stunning display of pianism. Of the "Great Pianists of the 20th century" series, I heard all of the sets that has Lisztian display of virtuosity, such as John Ogdon, Martha Argerich, Jorge Bolet, Andre Watts, Vladimir Horowitz, Earl Wild, etc. Yet, I don't think any of the pianist just mentioned beforehand displays the power, tone, and discipline of Gyorgy Cziffra.
Everything that I read about Cziffra's interpretation of the Chopin Etudes are frankly true. He plays the Etudes as if they were Paganini Caprices, plays them extremeley liberally, and does so with jaw-dropping speed. Yet, they are simply irresistible to listen to. I don't think I ever heard a left hand quite as wicked as Cziffra's when he plays the fiendishly difficult c#-minor etude no. 4, op. 10. The highlight of these etudes is probably the last three of the opus. 25. Cziffra plays these exceptionally well. Any pianist may vehemently disagree with Cziffra's interpretation, but you must say.. "to play like that!"
The 1st CD is one of the best compilation of a pianist that I ever heard. I would like to bring to attention two recordings in particular... The Fantasia and Fugue in B-A-C-H and the Mephisto Waltz.
The Fantasia and Fugue is not one of Liszt's more popular works and it may remain that way because I don't think any other pianist will ever come close to the magic and the overwhelming power in which Cziffra displays in this recording. The Fantasia is a fluid stream of power and it paves the way for the Fugue. Cziffra's playing of this Fugue just has to be heard. It is unbelievable. I never knew the piano can create sounds such as what Cziffra's brings. Basically, the way this piece is played, it starts to let you believe that almost anything can be achieved on a piano.
The Mephisto Waltz is one of Liszt most popular transcriptions for piano. There are even many versions of this work, because apparently some pianists of our time believed it is an inferior work and can be made better with their own transcription. Inferior or not, Cziffra's recording of this has got to be one of the most astounding recordings ever.
What's so unique about this version of the Mephisto Waltz is that it is played slowly. It is a very seductive interpretation and Cziffra takes his time with every note and repeats. Yet, once the CD player hits the time of "8,33" watch out, because all hell breaks loose. This recording alone should demonstrate to many listeners that Cziffra is one of the greatest pianists of our time.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
CZIFFRA - A Great Pianist 'without limitations'. 25 Mar 2001
By arffizc268@hotmail.com Alan Albeson Thorpe - Published on Amazon.com
EMI have just reissued Cziffra's electrifying recording [1975] of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies [No.2, 6, 8 - 15] in their `Great Recordings of the Century' series. This Philips 2CD set of Chopin and Liszt in their `Great Pianists of the 20th Century' edition is also worthy of that accolade. Cziffra escaped from war torn Hungary with his wife and young son having earlier given a stunning account of Bartok's second concerto at the Erkèl Thèàtre Budapest on 22nd October 1956, the eve of the Hungarian insurrection [EMI Rèferènces]. He crossed the border into Austria where he commenced a meteoric career. His first recital at the Brahmsaal Vienna set the Danube aflame and was hailed as an `historic event' - news of Cziffra's phenomenal playing even reached The New Yorker! On that occasion Cziffra not only delighted his Viennese audience [and critics] with his Mozart [Sonata in A minor K310] and Beethoven [32 Variations in C minor] but he also astounded them with his great Liszt playing; also his own transcriptions [given as encores] of Strauss's `Voices of Spring' and Bizet's Carmen. Later he made audiences gasp in amazement at his own arrangement [in octaves!] of Rimsky-Korsakoff's `Flight of the Bumble-Bee'.The Viennese audience can consider themselves very fortunate to have heard Cziffra play `live' - especially in Liszt. I also consider myself lucky to have heard the great pianist play Liszt's first concerto and Hungarian Fantasy with the Hallè Orchestra in Manchester in 1959. Cziffra was so rapturously received that he played a bouquet of scintillating encores that brought the house down and had critics searching for their most colourful superlatives. `La réincarnation de Liszt' was Marcel Dupré's description of Cziffra and we can well see why on the first of Philip's two CD's devoted to him. This is Liszt playing - not only of the most astounding virtuosity - but more importantly of poetry, passion, imagination and ecstatic spiritual vision which has never been equalled or surpassed. Just listen to the lyrical intensity and yearning of Cziffra's playing of the Sonetto 123 del Patrarca and indeed of the Etude de concert `Un sospiro'. The cadenzas in the latter cascade and shimmer like star-dust as do similar passages in the Tarantella - [Annèes de pèlerinage] and `La leggierezza'. At times there are passages in the Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H that sound like a volcanic eruption - the sheer drama of the playing is mesmerising. ` St. Francis Walking on the Waters' is similarly enthralling - climax is piled upon climax like some kind of virtuosic religious ecstacy - as it also is in the Transcendental Study `Chasse-neige' - a snow storm to envelope the whole world. The Tarantella di bravura from Auber's `La muette de Portici' is so stunning that it makes you laugh out loud. As for the Mephisto Waltz No.1 - all I can say is that there is nothing to compare with this - it is simply astounding! Cziffra the greatest Liszt player ever? Well - yes! Cziffra the greatest Chopin player? Cziffra turned more and more to Chopin as the years went by because he did not want to be labled as a Liszt specialist. Perhaps not a wise decision. His Chopin recordings for Philips [1962, 1963, 1967] which were always controversial were reissued on a four CD boxed set in France in 1991 to celebrate Cziffra's seventieth birthday. Although the Etudes Op.10 were issued complete the Op.25 set were issued only in part so here at last after thirty years we have them all on one CD. Worth waiting for? It is true that Cziffra the `klaviertiger' supreme devours the Etudes whole. Some people even suggested that Cziffra must have `cheated' in the first Etude in C major - that it wasn't possible to play it so fast. [see the EMI/BBC video for proof - available form the FONDATION CZIFFRA/internet site]. Yes speed records are broken - in the Etudes Op.10 No. 4 & 5 for instance - that wicked `tingle factor,' but there is poetry too in the lovely Etude in A flat Op.25/1, the heart-melting middle section of the E minor Op.25/5 and the Op25/7 in C sharp minor [duet for two hands] is beautifully played as is the middle section of the octave study. Op.25 in B minor. The outer section of the latter can rival anything by Horowitz and the `Winter Winds' Etude in A minor comes across with the energy and force of a tornado - similarly the final Etude in C minor is like a violent chorale - it is like some kind of centrifugal force that pins you down and you can't move until it is finished! Wow! Cziffra's Chopin Etudes then are a unique experience - certainly not for the critic who said that he'd yet to hear a pianist who made him more nervous - expecting at any moment one of Cziffra's pianistic grenades to be tossed into the piano! Definately not for those of a nervous disposition. For the rest - enjoy this unique experience!
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