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Phil in Magnolia
- Published on Amazon.com
Jorge Bolet was not fully appreciated as a concert pianist by the critics and mainstream establishment until he was well into his '60's. Born in Cuba in 1914, his playing was noticed by a visitor to Cuba who made arrangements for the 13-year old Bolet to travel to the U.S. and audition at the Curtis institute in Philadelphia (which had just recently opened, having been founded in 1924). He was successful as a concert pianist and recording artist, but critics considered his style to be overly romantic, and his recordings appeared on smaller and harder to find labels. The success of his Carnegie Hall recital in 1974 was the breakthrough that brought him to wider attention, and Decca first signed him to a recording contract in 1978 (at age 64).
These performances were recorded in May 1985, at Decca's studios in Berlin. They show the 71 year old Bolet in fine form, with clear tone, and deliberate tempos. From the very beginning of the Grieg concerto, it is immediately clear that Bolet is not going to exhibit the dramatic and intense style of most other pianists with this concerto. Upon first listen, it was somewhat disconcerting. But this is an impressive and beautiful performance, and it makes a good contrast to the interpretations of other performers (see below). Gramophone magazine, in their review of this recording, said "though slower than the composer's own metronome markings in the first movement of the Grieg, he is magisterial enough to justify his choice, and the slow movement's breadth is undeniably impressive too. But the dance-inspired finale lacks vitality. Nor can the ravishing poco piu tranquillo episode bring its full contrast after so restrained a start". This recording may therefore not be the best choice for someone wanting the full drama brought out in the performance, or for someone who will have this as their only recording of the concerto.
In the Schumann Piano Concerto, Bolet is also deliberate. Gramophone's remarks to this performance are "Bolet's deliberate tempo for the finale (almost but not quite so deliberate as the composer's often questioned metronome marking) would certainly have pleased Clara. I particularly enjoyed what this leisure allows Bolet to make of left-hand melody beneath the right hand's rippling quavers in the coda. His Andantino grazioso, however, though never over-cossetted, is rather slower than Clara and Robert might have liked. I also thought his slackening of speed for the first movement's central Andante espressivo section excessive. As a whole, this performance has a classical directness and purity of its own. Yet I would still describe it as noble prose rather than intimate, Schumannesque poetry".
These are both pieces that have been widely recorded and are well represented on CD, and so there are many choices available. Other recommendations that I would suggest considering, with the first three being recommended by both the Penguin Guide and Gramophone magazine (the Curzon recording is listed by Penguin but not Gramophone):
- Grieg, Schumann: Piano Concertos -- Leif Ove Andsnes, piano; Mariss Jansons conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
- Grieg, Schumann: Piano Concertos -- Stephen Kovacevich, piano; Colin Davis conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra
- Schumann, Grieg: Piano Concertos -- Murray Perahia, piano; Colin Davis conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
- Grieg: Peer Gynt; Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 -- Clifford Curzon, piano; Oivin Fjeldstad conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (the Decca release which includes the Schumann concerto, and is the recording that I have myself, does not seem to be available on Amazon U.S. but can be found on the UK site)
[*Important Note* - most if not all of the recordings listed above have been released by the music labels in various incarnations. Be sure to check Amazon carefully, searching for the composition along with the pianist, and compare prices and availability for the other choices available. I would do that here but there are simply too many to list and as well Amazon limits the number of links that can be included in a review to ten.]
Final comment regarding the releases of this particular recording - I've noticed at least three different listings here on Amazon, for this same recording, so anyone considering it should check the other listings in order to find the best pricing and availability. All are identical with respect to recording quality as far as I know, although booklet liner notes may likely vary. This recording is also included in the Decca 5 disc box set that I list at the bottom:
- Piano Concerto (recording on this page)
- Grieg & Schumann: Piano Concertos
- Grieg: Piano Concerto/ Schumann: Piano Concerto
- Ultimate Piano Concertos, which also includes Bolet performing the Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14 by Felix Mendelssohn, also recorded in 1985, as well as four other excellent discs of piano concerto performances. (This box set is a terrific value at current pricing on Amazon).