Today, its hard to fathom the worldwide sensation sparked by Van Cliburns victory in the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. An American pianist winning a prestigious Russian event at the height of the Cold War made headlines everywhere and the two rival superpowers took the young Texan to their hearts, with a tickertape parade in Manhattan and frequent, sold-out tours of the Soviet Union by Cliburn during the following years. VAI has secured the original Russian television tapes of some of those concerts; this first of the series is from the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in 1962, with the excellent Kirill Kondrashin leading the Moscow Philharmonic. The formal program was made up of two of the most popular concertos in the repertory. The Beethoven Emperor
Concerto features Cliburns big, bold tone and exquisite phrasing; his magisterial entrance is riveting and the meaningful trills Beethoven sprinkled throughout the work are done with pristine exactitude. The Tchaikovsky Concerto--Cliburns signature piece--is even better; the massive opening chords thrilling, ample poetry in the slow movement and, as in the Beethoven, truly stunning legato playing. Also worthy are the two encores--Chopins Fantasy in F minor, given with a mixture of power and poetry, and Liszts Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12, brimming with excitement and pianistic mastery. Kondrashins orchestral accompaniments in the concertos are exemplary, well-paced and matching Cliburns keyboard approach. The mono sound is barely acceptable, with occasional patches of distortion, and if the grainy picture quality is an indication of Soviet TV quality at the time, they had a long way to go. But this DVD scores on two levels: Its an important historical document (Khruschev, Mikoyan and Gromyko are in the audience) and its an important reminder of Cliburns musical prowess at the time. --Dan Davis
The pianist performs works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, and Liszt live in 1962 at the Big Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with the Moscow Philharmonic conducted by Kyrill Kondrashin. B&W.