Lipatti Centenary Reissues

Immortal Dinu Lipatti

Dinu Lipatti continues to be held in high esteem 100 years after his birth due to his recorded legacy. His handful of studio recordings – which his producer Walter Legge said was ‘small in number but of the purest gold’ – and the few concert and test recordings that have been issued since his premature death almost seven decades ago have led to his continually being hailed as one of the all-time great pianists. During his lifetime and since, his records have been best-sellers, with his critically-acclaimed readings of the Schumann Concerto and Chopin Waltzes having rarely been out of print.

It is therefore very disappointing that Warner Classics, who has taken over the EMI catalogue, should have done such a terrible job in commemorating this bestselling artist for the 100th anniversary of his birth. While they have been producing many commendable historical releases of late – including a massive Menuhin Centenary set last year – their Lipatti tribute is thoroughly lacklustre and ill-conceived.

The 7-disc box issued by EMI in 2008 and still produced by Warner includes almost all of Lipatti’s commercial recordings for EMI (absent are his 1947 versions of Chopin’s Waltz Op.34 No.1 and Bach-Hess Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, as well as the Liebeslieder Waltzes, which EMI has never included in a Lipatti set) as well as numerous important concert performances, and is highly recommended for fans of great piano playing. Although this box set is still in the catalogue, Warner decided to produce as an anniversary release a 3-disc compilation entitled Immortal Dinu Lipatti that consists entirely of recordings featured in that set: the Schumann and Mozart Concertos (No.21) with Karajan at the podium, a disc of various solo recordings, and his legendary final recital at the Besançon Festival. Warner’s promotional material speaks to their uninspired approach to producing this tribute – “All three CDs are also in the Icon box dedicated to the pianist (5099920731823) but the Besançon Recital included here benefits from a 24-bit/96kHz remastering made for a Japanese SACD edition in 2011” – thereby acknowledging that they did nothing new for this anniversary, even informing us that this Last Recital disc was remastered 6 years ago… Heaven forbid they should actually remaster any of the recordings again for his centenary celebration!

The Besançon disc does indeed have very good sound and appears to have been gone back to the original INA broadcast source material, as it includes for some reason the spoken announcement of the Mozart Sonata and Schubert Impromptus from the radio broadcast – yet if that source material was used anew, why would they not include the warm-up ‘preluding’ that Lipatti played before the Schubert and Chopin works in the recital? These are present on the master tape and are exquisitely beautiful; it is a mystery why they were never put on LP to begin with, when the arpeggios prior to the Bach and Mozart were, and these would have been most welcome in a new reissue.

Lipatti immortal backFurthermore, the sound on the solo disc of studio recordings is reprehensible. Warner is still using the same transfers of the original 78rpm discs made decades ago – the sloppy side-join in the first movement of the Chopin B Minor Sonata results in a surge in volume midway through the chord that Lipatti played both at the end and beginning of each disc, something evident in every EMI issue of the performance since the 1955 LP set on French Columbia – all these decades the label has been simply tweaking the sound of transfers made over 60 years ago without ever going back to the source material. (APR’s 1999 disc of Lipatti’s 1947 recordings featured the best transfer of the work – Bryan Crimp used freshly stamped vinyl pressings of all the sides for which the original matrices existed.) The Enescu Third Sonata is still issued a semi-tone sharp (in D-Sharp as opposed to D) and the final movement features some computerized distortion that was present in the Icon release and which clearly went unnoticed by the engineers or anyone producing that set and the current release – previous CD and LP incarnations of the performance had no such noise.

Perhaps most reprehensible is a booklet that lacks any written content other than the track listings and recording dates. To produce what is supposed to be a tribute to one of the most revered artists of the 20th century without a single word about the performer, his artistry, and the recordings themselves is lowering the bar to a point that one wonders why Warner even bothered to produce the set. It would have been very easy for them to find a writer – in-house or otherwise – to produce a tribute text, or they might even have simply reproduced a previously published essay (much as they just republished previously produced CDs) … and yet they included nothing. A staggering disappointment, particularly given the fine work Warner has been doing in reissuing historical recordings by the other major artists in their catalogue.

Lipatti Anniversary EditionHänssler in Germany, on the other hand, have produced what is the most comprehensive Lipatti issue produced to date with their 100th Anniversary Edition, including virtually everything of the pianist that’s been available in any format, from his first test recordings in 1936 to his final recorded studio and concert performances, including important items never released on EMI/Warner. They have used all of the material uncovered by my research and featured on the CDs that I co-produced on the Archiphon label in the 90s (though they have done so without seeking authorization), and a little more: I must admit to being a bit surprised that they used the excerpt of an unpublished 1936 test recording of Brahms’ Op.118 No.6 from my YouTube channel – had they written to ask, I could have provided more of the performance (although it is marred by skips in the record in the 1960s tape transfer, the original disc having been lost).

The organizational principle of Hänssler’s set is ideal, presenting Lipatti’s recordings in chronological order across 12 discs, with CD1 being Pre-War Recordings 1936-1938, CDs 2 and 3 War Recordings 1941-1943, CDs 4-7 featuring Post-War Recordings 1945-1948, CDs 8-11 the ‘Last year of Dinu Lipatti 1950’. and CD 12 being the ‘Last Recital oLipatti anniversary backf Dinu Lipatti (age 33)’. Linguistically unidiomatic titles aside, the collection is logically sequenced as a whole, although there are some odd choices throughout: on CD 9, for example,  Lipatti’s concert recording of the Mozart C Major Concerto from August 1950 is presented before the February 22 concert performance of the Schumann Concerto, whereas the reverse would have fit the chronological ordering of the entire box set. If they did this in order to present the composers chronologically, then the ordering of solo works on disc 7 is inconsistent, as it features Lipatti’s 1947 Abbey Road recordings of Chopin prior to the two Scarlatti Sonatas recorded the same year, before shifting eras again to Liszt. Lipatti’s 1947 Bach-Hess Jesu Joy was not included on that disc, the producers having chosen to place it at the end of his Besancon recital on the final disc to replicate how Lipatti actually played that recital (a recording of the final portion of his recital that includes the encore has never been found); the only problem is that they have used the 1950 recording and not the 1947 as stated, so that earlier reading is as a result regrettably absent from the set.

One of the most unfortunate omissions comes with Lipatti’s 1947 test recordings with cellist Antonio Janigro, never published in his lifetime or by EMI (Walter Legge has a lot to answer for here – his not having released these magnificent performances while claiming to do all he could to promote Lipatti’s art was inexcusable, as the playing of both artists is utterly sublime). Three of the six works that the duo recorded in a Zurich studio are featured, the only takes that were issued on Archiphon in 1995 as we had only located two of the six discs at the time. However, I have since located two of the other works, most notably the first movement of Beethoven’s Third Cello Sonata – obviously of great interest since there are no other known recordings of Lipatti playing Beethoven. If the producers of the set had been in contact to inquire about using the recordings I’d previously discovered or about what else might be available, I would certainly have arranged for them to include these other performances for their first CD appearance. Also missing from the compilation are two previously issued interviews with Lipatti from 1950, although the solo works he played in the radio studio in his July interview are included separately. A third interview made prior to his final concerto performance in Lucerne has still never been published in its entirety.

As regards sound quality, the producers have taken the EMI, Archiphon, Electrocord, and Decca transfers and refiltered them. While there is some better clarity in some works, in others the sound is a bit tinny and processed. They have wisely adjusted the pitch to the 1943 Enescu Third Sonata so that it is on-key (unlike any of the EMI issues) and it sounds very fine indeed, the best commercially available. They have chosen the Archiphon transfer of the Chopin Concerto, which is infinitely better than EMI’s, yet they used the 1995 reissue of the Etude Op.25 No.5 that is missing the first two measures, rather than using the complete version from the 2001 release (from which they took the Concerto). While one might wish for a more robust and less filtered sound in the set, the sound overall is still serviceable and the strength of the compilation certainly makes it a worthwhile purchase.

My final ‘if only’ about the set relates to the booklet, which features a text that is poorly translated into English and occasionally factually incorrect, repeating the famous lie perpetuated by Legge that Lipatti had wanted three or four years to prepare the Tchaikovsky and Beethoven Emperor Concertos, something I disproved in publications starting in 1999 with evidence from EMI’s own archives. The photographs as well appear to have been taken from secondary sources when fine copies would gladly have been provided for this worthwhile project.

All of these reservations aside, the Hänssler release is currently the only way to have access to the widest range of Lipatti recordings in one compilation. The producers deserve kudos for having had the vision to produce this set and for the comprehensive nature of the production. Lipatti fans won’t want to be without it.

Lipatti Tribute Program

Here is the link to a YouTube video of a guest appearance that I made on Dinu Lipatti’s official birthday – March 19 – for his centenary celebrations. Host Gary Lemco and I discussed Lipatti’s playing and recordings, playing a series of known and less known performances by the great pianist. Included are an excerpt of Lipatti accompanying the great cellist Antonio Janigro in the first movement of Beethoven’s Third Cello Sonata and Lipatti’s gorgeous reading of the Schubert G-Flat Impromptu from his final recital, complete with the warm-up arpeggios that he played prior to the performance.

Dinu Lipatti biography still in print

Lipatti cover The only biography of Dinu Lipatti published in English is still available. ‘Lipatti’, written by Grigore Bargauanu and Dragos Tanasescu, was first published in 1971 and has been edited several times to reflect new information about Lipatti that has come to light. It is currently available by Kahn & Averill publishers at this link. This book is heartily recommended for any Lipatti fans who wish to learn more about the pianist. It includes biographical details, with extensive quotes from letters, as well as separate sections about Lipatti as an interpreter and as a composer.

 

Liszt’s First Piano Concerto

Dinu Lipatti recorded only two piano concertos for EMI – the Grieg and Schumann Concertos, both in A Minor, and both mainstays of the repertoire. While the Grieg has its more virtuosic side, somehow Lipatti’s lyricism and musicality have overshadowed his more stunning technical feats in this performance, leaving pianophiles with the impression that he wasn’t the kind of pianist who could play real showpieces. In the digital age and through this blog and other publications it is becoming more known that Lipatti played 23 works for piano and orchestra of all kinds. One of the works that figured in his repertoire for the longest was Liszt’s First Piano Concerto.

Lipatti first played the work in 1933 in Bucharest, and famously performed it with Mengelberg a decade later. Apparently when Lipatti came on the stage for the first rehearsal, Mengelberg said “Das ist kein Liszt-spieler” (“That is no Liszt pianist”) – but once the pianist started playing, the conductor soon revised his assessment. Despite his rather slight appearance, Lipatti had strength in spades, and even though his approach to playing was always musical, he was capable of fireworks.

The last time that Lipatti played the work was on June 6, 1947 in Geneva, with the Radio Suisse Romande orchestra conducted by Ernest Ansermet, at a charity concert for the Red Cross. It came to my attention in 1991 that this performance had been recorded and preserved on a set of acetates owned by Lipatti’s widow. I could not fathom at the time – nor can I still – why she possessed this recording yet seems to have made no effort to have it issued: there is not a shred of correspondence relating to its existence in EMI’s archive. Nevertheless, along with other private recordings, these discs found their way into the hands of Dr. Marc Gertsch, a Lipatti fan in Bern who had come to the rescue of Mrs. Lipatti when the Chopin Concerto scandal had erupted (Gertsch had a recording of an authentic performance and let EMI use it once it was discovered that the recording they had released was not of Lipatti). After Mrs Lipatti died in the early 1980s, Gertsch was allowed to go into her collection and take the records he wanted; he did not take them all at once, and when he returned, those he had left were gone… meaning that there are potentially more private recordings that exist in private hands.

The copies of the Liszt Concerto were well worn, having been played multiple times, and the first record was cracked. While there was a backup reel tape, the sound was not very good on it. My colleague Werner Unger of the archiphon record label met with Gertsch in 1992 and took the recordings to remaster them. He spent hours and hours declicking and splicing the first record into an accurate representation of the performance (having heard the unedited transfer of the disc, with the needle jumping and skipping, I am in utter amazement at how he managed). We released the performance for the first time on archiphon’s ‘Les Inedits’ box set release, which featured other unissued Lipatti performances from Gertsch’s collection. Alas, some of the final mastering by one of Unger’s colleagues removed some of the full-bodied sound that had previously been present in the Liszt.

In 2000, Unger and I were in discussion about Lipatti matters and I suggested he ask EMI what they had prepared for the 50th anniversary of Lipatti’s death so that we could release our own commemorative CD. When it became evident that they had completely missed the occasion and not planned to issue anything, they asked us what we had that they could use, and I proposed the Bach-Busoni, Liszt, and Bartok Third Concertos as a single disc. The CD was eventually issued in early 2001, so this glowing performance of Liszt’s First Concerto is now part of Lipatti’s official discography. (I offered to write the booklet notes for the CD but was told that one of their regular writers would do so, and they thanked me for my interest in their project.) Alas, EMI also continued to fiddle with the engineering after we’d approved of one fine transfer, further compressing and deadening the sound.

Regardless of sonic restrictions, the performance reveals some staggering playing on Lipatti’s part, displaying his unique synthesis of thorough technical command and profound, poised musicality. He has a massive dynamic range (recent digital transfers of the Grieg Concerto give a better idea) and plays with peaked phrasing, crisply defined articulation, dramatic emphasis, and elegant rubato. His tempi would be considered spacious by modern standards: in 1930s Paris, he heard Liszt’s pupil Emil von Sauer play both concertos and was impressed with his slower tempi and refined approach. In the third movement, Lipatti achieves the remarkable ‘bounce’ heard on his legendary disc of Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso, and the cadenza in that movement (starting around 13:07 on the YouTube clip below) is the most convincing I’ve heard: he slows down and plays with a rumbling bass, arching the phrasing of the melody in a truly sinister fashion that seems so natural and obvious that I can’t understand why other pianists haven’t considered this approach.

Lipatti played the Chopin Andante Spianato and Polonaise at the same concert but a recording of that performance has not been found. It is to be hoped that it is among those that went missing from Mrs Lipatti’s collection and will one day be recovered. But fortunately we now have this amazing performance of Liszt’s First Piano Concerto readily available on CD, at iTunes, and on YouTube for all to enjoy.

Dinu Lipatti’s Final Essay – On Interpretation

Below is a draft from May 1950 of a presentation for an Interpretation Course to be held at the Conservatoire de Geneve. Lipatti had planned to give the course with Nadia Boulanger in the Spring of 1951. The text below was found in his papers after his death, and gives a good glimpse of his views towards interpretation.

It is unjustly believed that the music from one era or another must preserve the imprint, the characteristics, and even the vices prevalent at the time this music was created. In thinking this way we have a peaceful conscience and find ourselves incapable of any dangerous misrepresentation. And to reach this objective, for all the effort, for all the research done in the dust of the past, for all the useless scrupulousness towards the ‘sole object of our attention,’ we will always end up drowning it in an abundance of prejudices and false facts. For, let us never forget, true and great music transcends its time and, even more, never corresponded to the framework, forms, and rules in place at the time of its creation: Bach in his work for organ calls for the electric organ and its unlimited means, Mozart asks for the pianoforte and distances himself decisively from the harpsichord, Beethoven demands our modern piano, which Chopin – having it – first gives its colors, while Debussy goes further in presenting through his Preludes glimpses of Martenot’s Wave [i]. Therefore, wanting to restore to music its historical framework is like dressing an adult in an adolescent’s clothes. This might have a certain charm in the context of a historical reconstruction, yet is of no interest to those other than lovers of dead leaves or the collectors of old pipes.

These reflections came to me while recalling the astonishment that I caused some time ago when I played, at a prominent European music festival [ii], Mozart’s D minor Concerto [K. 466] with the magnificent and stunning cadenza that Beethoven made for this work. True, we could sense that the same themes appear differently under Beethoven’s pen than under that of Mozart. But this is exactly wherein lies the appeal of this interesting confrontation between two such different personalities. I regret to say that other than a few enlightened spirits, nobody understood this marriage and everyone suspected that I had composed this vile and anachronistic cadenza!

How right Stravinsky is in affirming that ‘Music is the present’!

Music has to live under our fingers, under our eyes, in our hearts and in our brains with all that we, the living, can offer it.

Far be it for me to promote anarchy and disdain for the fundamental laws which guide, along general lines, the coordination of a valid and pertinent interpretation. But I find it a grave mistake to lose oneself in researching useless details regarding the way in which Mozart would have played a certain trill or grupetto. As for myself, the diverse markings provided by excellent yet incomplete treatises compel me to decisively take the path to simplification and synthesis while immutably preserving some four or five fundamental principles of which I think you are aware (or at least, I suppose you are), and for the rest I rely on intuition, that second but no-less-precious intelligence, and to in-depth penetration of the work, which, sooner or later, ends up confessing the secret of its soul.

Never approach a score with eyes of the dead or the past, for they may bring you nothing more in return than Yorick’s skull [iii]. Alfredo Casella rightly said that we must not be satisfied with merely respecting masterpieces, but we must love them.

This translation © Mark Ainley 2003

End notes

i. An invention by Maurice Martenot (1898-1980) based on his discovery that the recently invented radio tubes produced a certain ‘purity of vibrations’. He presented his unique instrument at the Paris Opera in 1928 (he had started his research in 1919) and a number of composers, particularly French, wrote works for it.

ii. Lipatti performed the Mozart D Minor Concerto at the Lucerne Music Festival on August 23, 1947, with Paul Hindemith conducting.

iii. This refers to the scene in ‘Hamlet’ where the protagonist finds the skull of his favourite clown from his childhood. Lipatti is most likely stressing that in searching for the exact style of interpretation in the past, we may end up with something that once contained life but no longer does.