The Compact Collection: Rob Cowan On The Week's Cd Releases

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The Independent Culture
WHAT WOULDN'T I have given to be present at the Saratoga Performing Arts Centre on 30 July 1998 when Itzhak Perlman and Martha Argerich played Beethoven and Franck violin sonatas. Judged on the recorded evidence, it was a match made anywhere but in heaven, and yet the end results are riveting. Perlman is the pivot, solid as oak and tonally resplendent, whereas Argerich is the coltish firebrand, mercurial to a fault and prone to dip her tone at any moment from the fiercest fortissimo to the most ethereal pianissimo. You simply have no idea what's coming next. Perlman's response, though beautiful, is relatively strait-laced.

Argerich edges into Franck's sonata as if elevated in some mystical trance, but as soon as Perlman joins her, the tempo increases and we're back on land. It's more or less same story throughout both sonatas: Perlman, the "good boy" who plays by the rules, versus a fleet-fingered free spirit who takes the musical law into her own hands. Both players cope brilliantly, so much so that I hunger to hear them grapple with Brahms, Schumann, Strauss, Bach - anything!

Indeed, the privilege of hearing them had me thinking of the many wonderful musicians who never made it that far. When leukaemia claimed the Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti at the age of 33, the musical world mourned the loss of a major interpreter. At the time of his death in December 1950, Lipatti had made a few precious discs. Since then, a handful of broadcast recordings has surfaced, the latest being Bartok's Third Piano Concerto (under Paul Sacher) from 1948 and Liszt's First Concerto (with Ernest Ansermet conducting) from 1947.

The Bartok - a profoundly centred reading - sounds passable (save for some momentary screeches during the first movement) but the orchestra is ropy; whereas the Liszt sounds rough, but the orchestra is alert - and the piano playing is fabulous. Lipatti's passage-work and lightning trills are breathtaking, his control of tone, line, poetic argument, truly phenomenal.

Urania adds his famous EMI studio recording of the Grieg Concerto, but if that recording is your prime requirement, you'd be far better off investing in APR's superior transfer (APR5509) - which includes all of Lipatti's commercial recordings of 1947. But at least try and sample the Urania CD.

It's been an amazing month in terms of newsworthy historical releases. For example, just when I thought we were done with bumper-boxes, along came The Philadelphia Orchestra: The Centennial Collection. Twelve pricey CDs enshrine heady encounters that most of us thought we would never hear. Jascha Heifetz and Leopold Stokowski are at celestial loggerheads in Sibelius's Violin Concerto; Josef Hofmann and Eugene Ormandy collaborate for a jewel- studded Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto, and Dame Joan Sutherland makes regal music of Lucia di Lammermoor's "Mad Scene" with Stokowski conducting. Mahler's multi-faceted Fifth Symphony all but self-combusts under the excitable baton of Hermann Scherchen and Wolfgang Sawallisch exhibits keen reflexes in Martinu's Fourth.

There are performances under Reiner, Tennstedt, Walter, Munch, Kertesz, Muti and Toscanini; concertos with Richter, Kogan, Du Pre, Kapell and Rabin, and a whole host of great singers in concert. Composer-conductors - including Kodaly, Stravinsky and Copland - are heard in their own works. All performances call on America's most sumptuous orchestra.

Beethoven, Franck/EMI CDC5 56815 2

Bartk, Liszt, Grieg/ Lipatti Urania/Priory URN 22.122

The Philadelphia Orchestra: The Centennial Collection (12 discs). Available from Tower Records or direct from the Philadelphia Orchestra at www.philorch.org

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