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Schnabel's Beethoven, Gould's Bach, Cziffra's Liszt
on January 1, 2003
First of all, buy this CD, for there is nothing like it in the world.
There is a certain style and technique that every composer demands of his performers. No performer is universally perfect, but some come closer to achieving the particular style of a given composer that other performers. Artur Schnabel, despite his clumsy fingerwork, gives us the definitive Beethoven interpretations with his broad-sighted view of the structure of the sonatas, combined with great rhythmic vitality and dynamic contrasts. Glenn Gould, despite his near-total oblivion to Baroque performance practice, gives us the most contrapuntally lucid, rhythmically and dynamically even, and inspiring readings of the Bach keyboard works ever recorded. And Gyorgy Cziffra, despite his outrageous fluctuations in tempo and alterations of the score, provides the most thrilling and technically dazzling plowing through of these 10 hungarian rhapsodies. Cziffra plays the hungarian rhapsodies extravertedly, with wit, finesse, THE greatest technique I have ever heard, occasionally with a tempo, and usually with what Liszt wrote. The last two comments are where contraversy arises. Cziffra added passages and notes into some of the rhapsodies that slightly change the flavor of the music, but it always sounds like Liszt. He also omits the fast scale near the end of number 15 (I don't know why; throughout he plays much harder scales brilliantly), but the performance does not suffer at all from his odd decisions. Also, Cziffra was trained in the 20s and 30s, when alterations of the score were very commonplace (the university had not yet become the primary patron of the music at that point; therefore the intellectual piety towards the composers' marks had not yet developped). Listen to recordings of Busoni, Paderewski, Godowsky, and other people of the 20s-30s play; they all make changes that are often quite striking and odd to our ears (if we know the music). These recordings were made in the 60s, so Cziffra is an anachronism, but that does not make him a lesser artist; he simply abided by the rules of a different era. Secondly, he makes abrupt changes in tempo all the time. If this were a recording of the Beethoven sonatas, such tempo changes would merit a rating of 1 star. But it is a recording of the Liszt rhapsodies hongroises, and everything is for effect. The tempo changes, as brought off by Cziffra, provide a certain change in character where it is needed (or where Cziffra deems it appropriate), and does not detract from the direction of the music at all. Notice that whenever the music actually is going somewhere, which is about 40% of the time in the rhapsodies, Cziffra plays straightly, with rubato (within a tempo) dictated by the phrasing and harmony of the music. Thus, Cziffra commits no sins in his oddities.