Illness prevented him from performing widely and he died at just 33, but Dinu Lipatti's recorded legacy has ensured him a place among the great pianists of the twentieth century. His considerable technique was never ostentatious, his musicianship self-effacing, yet everything that he played was infused with a poetry and poise that was truly noble. It is most welcome that EMI have devoted to Lipatti one of their first 'Icon' releases - box sets of classic recordings in the mould of the DG, Decca and Philips 'Original Masters'.
This Lipatti set contains seven discs, and while there is nothing here that is not currently available in another form, it is good to have his EMI recordings packaged together in a handy and affordable set. The heart of the set are his recordings of Bach's B-major partita, the A-minor sonata by Mozart and the Chopin Waltzes. These are represented here both in the form of Lipatti's studio recordings and the recital at Besancon which was his last. There is an almost artless directness to these that is very moving. New to me was Lipatti's playing of Chopin's 3rd piano sonata and his interpretation of Liszt's Sonetto 104 del Petrarco - these are powerful performances. Other highlights are his readings of Mozart's piano concerto no21 (exalted) and his melting touch and tone in Schumann's piano concerto.
In my view, though, the set has a downside: the sound on some items. The sound comes up well on the items listed above, but in others it is very poor. Many 'original masters' sets are still quite serviceable in this respect, but here many of the concerto recordings (from the 1940s) are quite muddy. Chopin's 1st concerto is not great, Bach's D-minor keyboard concerto comes with a wobble and the piano moves in and out of focus, and on Liszt's first concerto the piano sounds behind the scratching and hissinng like some indistinct and otherwordly Glockenspiel. The missing star - apologies to a great musician - is thus a caveat. It will depend on your personal tastes and tolerance: if you are not a shellac-lover who is unfailingly able hear the transcendental music-making behind its sometimes inadequate reproduction, then this set may still be well worth it. But for some pieces more than others.
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