Schubert’s Impromptu in G-Flat Major

Today is the anniversary of Dinu Lipatti’s legendary final recital at the Besançon International Music Festival on September 16, 1950, so it seems a fine time to publish and discuss one of the pianist’s magnificent performances from that concert: the Schubert Impromptu in G-Flat Major D.899 No.3.

EMI first issued Lipatti’s performance of the two Schubert Impromptus that he played at the recital on a 5-LP French Columbia set in 1955 and then the complete recital in 1957, first on both French Columbia and Angel Records (in the US); when the performance received such universal acclaim (unanticipated by EMI management, who had resisted issuing the complete recording), it was released worldwide. Particularly noted was the fact that Lipatti played warm-up arpeggios (preluding) prior to the Bach and Mozart works in the program; however, EMI never released (for reasons completely unknown) Lipatti’s preluding prior to the Schubert Impromptus or the Chopin Waltzes, despite these having been recorded and existing on the Radiodiffusion Française broadcast recording in EMI’s archive.

RDF SchubertPresented in this YouTube clip is the applause and preluding prior to Lipatti’s performance of the G-Flat Major Impromptu, followed by the performance of the work as issued. It should be noted, however, that the performance as broadcast and released is not exactly how Lipatti played it: there is a sudden edit with several bars missing from the broadcast tape, and in 2015 the reason why became clear when my colleague Werner Unger and I located and transferred an original Radiodiffusion Française transcription disc of this sole work from the recital.

On this original disc we can hear Lipatti hit a wrong note in the left hand, which for some reason was edited out of the broadcast performance by cutting out several measures of music (it took place during a repeated musical subject). Because EMI only had access to the broadcast tape and not the unedited transcription disc, they took the same music from a later part of the score and edited it seamlessly into the performance – the complete as-played performance has still not been aired or issued in its entirety.

But here we can hear finally hear the warm applause and exquisitely beautiful arpeggios that Lipatti played prior to his heartfelt reading of this marvellous work by Schubert, which he plays with a soaring melodic line, phrasing that breathes, wonderfully poised layering of voices, natural timing, and a burnished sonority that truly sings.

The photographs used in this video were taken by Besançon-based photographer Michel Meusy during the recital and are presented with permission of his family.

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.

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 Repertoire – Solo Piano and Two-Piano Works

The following is a list of the works that Dinu Lipatti is known to have played in public. It is based on existing concert programs and letters that give evidence that Lipatti actually played these works in concert – his private repertoire was larger. Occasionally, the list – originally compiled by Lipatti biographer Grigore Bargauanu and the collector Marc Gertsch, with a few additions made now – lacks some detail in terms of exact works: for example, Lipatti played at least six Chopin Preludes, but exactly which ones he performed are unknown. Many of the works – particularly the four Beethoven Sonatas and the Schubert B-Flat Sonata! – are from his early performing years in the 1930s; he played the Waldstein throughout his career, however, and not only in the last few years of his life as his recording engineer Walter Legge erroneously reported. Some of the works that he did play in his later years include Bach Prelude and Fugues, Schumann’s Études Symphoniques, Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, and Chopin’s Fourth Ballade.

It is an enticing list that makes the lack of more recordings by this unique artist all the more regrettable. Let us hope that some other concert broadcasts or private recordings will be found!

Works for Solo Piano and Two Pianos

Albéniz
Iberia, Book 1 – 1. Evocación
Iberia, Book 1 – 2. El Puerto
Iberia, Book 2 – 3. Triana
Navarra (transcribed by Lipatti)
Petite serenade

Andricu
Two Dances
Two Pieces Op.18

Bach
Chorale in G Major, BWV 147 “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” (arr. Hess)
Chorale Prelude, “Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ” BWV 639 (arr. Busoni)
Chorale Prelude, “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” BWV 659 (arr. Busoni)
English Suite No.3 in G Minor, BWV 808
Italian Concerto, BWV 971
Partita No.1 in B-Flat Major, BWV 825
Pastorale in F Major for organ, BWV 590 (transcribed Lipatti)
Phantasy in A Minor, BWV 904
Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier (at least 4)
Prelude and Fugue in E Minor for organ, BWV 533
Siciliano from Flute Sonata, BWV 1031 (arr. Kempff)
Toccata in D Major, BWV 912
Toccata in C Major, BWV 564 (arr. Busoni)

Bartók
Allegro barbaro
Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (Mikrokosmos Vol.6)
Sonata for Piano

Beethoven
Piano Sonata No.7 in D Major, Op.10 No.3
Piano Sonata No.17 in D Minor, Op.31 No.2
Piano Sonata No.21 in C Major, Op.53 “Waldstein”
Piano Sonata No.23 in F Minor, Op.57 “Appassionata”

Berkeley
Concert Polka for Two Pianos

Brahms
Capriccio in D minor, Op.116 No.7
Intermezzo in A Minor, Op.116 No.2
Intermezzo in E-Flat Major, Op.117 No.1
Intermezzo in B-Flat Minor, Op.117 No.2
Intermezzo in E-Flat Minor, Op.118 No.6
Intermezzo in C Major, Op.119 No.3
Variations on a Theme by Haydn for Two Pianos
Waltzes Op.39 for Two Pianos (Nos. 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 14, 15 – and perhaps others)

Brero
Five Preludes

Bull
Variations for Keyboard

Byrd
Various Pieces for Keyboard

Casella
Sonatina

Chopin
Ballade No.4 in F Minor, Op.52
Barcarolle in F-Sharp Major, Op.60
Étude in G-Flat Major, Op.10 No.5
Étude in C Major, Op.10 No.7
Étude in F Major, Op.10 No.8
Étude in E Minor, Op.25 No.5
Étude in A Minor, Op.25 No.11
Mazurka in E Minor, Op.41 No.1
Mazurka in B Major, Op.41 No.2
Mazurka in C-Sharp Minor, Op.41 No.4
Mazurka in C-Sharp Minor, Op.50 No.3
Nocturne No.8 in D-Flat Major, Op.27 No.2
Polonaise in E-Flat Major, Op.22
Polonaise in F-Sharp Minor, Op.44
Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-Flat Major, Op.61
various Preludes Op.28 (at least 6)
Rondo in F Major, Op.5
Scherzo No.1 in B Minor, Op.20
Scherzo No.3 in C-Sharp Minor, Op.39
Scherzo No.4 in E Major, Op.54
Sonata No.3 in B Minor, Op.58
Waltzes Nos.1 through 14
Waltz Op. Posth (which one is unknown)

Debussy
Arabesque (No.1 or 2)
Estampes No.2, “La soiree dans Grenade”
Étude pour les arpèges composés (and possibly others)
L’isle joyeuse
Images Book 1 No.1: “Reflets dans l’eau”
Images Book 1 No.2: “Hommage a Rameau”
Preludes (various)

Dohnányi
Capriccio in F Minor, Op.28 No.6

Enescu
Piano Sonata No.1 in F-Sharp Minor, Op.24 No.1
Piano Sonata No.3 in D Major, Op.24 No.3
Suite No.2 in D Major, Op.10
Variations on an Original Theme for two pianos, Op.5

De Falla
Ritual Fire Dance

Fauré
Impromptu No.3 in A-Flat Major, Op.34
Nocturne No.1 in E-Flat Minor, Op.33

Françaix
Concertino for two pianos

Handel
Suite No.3 in D Minor, HWV 428

Jora
Jewish March Op.8

Klepper
Two Dances

Lazar
Two Bagatelles

Lipatti
Compositions of childhood
Romanian Dances for two pianos
Three Dances for two pianos
Nocturne
Phantasie for piano solo
Sonatina for left hand
Suite for two pianos

Liszt
Concert Etude, “La Leggierezza”, S.144
Concert Etude, “Gnomenreigen”, S.145
Harmonies du soir
Mephisto Waltz No.1
Sonetto del Petrarca No.104

Mihalovici
Deux pieces impromptues, Op.19

Mozart
Piano Sonata No. 8 in A Minor, K.310
Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K.448

Mozart-Busoni
Duettino concertante for two pianos

Negrea
Sonatine Op.8

Nottara
Two Dances

Poulenc
Six Nocturnes

Ravel
Miroirs No.4, “Alborada del gracioso”
Miroirs No.5, “La vallee des cloches”
Le tombeau de Couperin
La Valse for two pianos

Scarlatti
Piano Sonata in E Major, L.23
Piano Sonata in G Major, L.387
Piano Sonata in D Minor, L.413
Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major
Piano Sonata in F Major
Piano Sonata in G Minor

Schubert
Impromptu No.2 in E-Flat Major, D.899 No.2
Impromptu No.3 in G-Flat Major, D.899 No.3
Piano Sonata No.21 in B-Flat Major, D.960
Allegro in A Minor for two pianos, D.947

Schumann
Blumenstück, Op.19
Carnaval, Op.9
Études Symphoniques, Op.13
Novelette No.2 in D Major, Op.21

Stravinsky
Danse russe (from “Petrouchka”)
Sonata for piano

Weber-Corder
Invitation to the Dance for two pianos