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Hyperion Records

APR5574 - Alfred Cortot – The Late Recordings, Vol. 4 – Schumann, Schubert, Chopin & Liszt

Recording details: Various dates
Unknown, Unknown
Release date: November 2010
DISCID: D3111622
Total duration: 71 minutes 22 seconds

Alfred Cortot – The Late Recordings, Vol. 4 – Schumann, Schubert, Chopin & Liszt
No 3: F minor  [1'43]  recorded 30 June 1954
12 Deutsch Ländler D790  [8'59]  Franz Schubert (1797-1828)  recorded 17 October 1951
No 1: Préambule: Quasi maestoso  [2'31]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 2: Pierrot: Moderato  [1'09]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 3: Arlequin: Vivo  [0'42]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 4: Valse noble: Un poco maestoso  [1'19]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 5: Eusebius: Adagio  [1'32]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 6: Florestan: Passionato  [0'54]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 7: Coquette: Vivo  [1'01]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 8a: Réplique: L'istesso tempo  [0'25]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 8b: Sphinxes  [0'23]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 9: Papillons: Prestissimo  [0'43]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 10: ASCH–SCHA (Lettres dansantes): Presto  [0'37]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 11: Chiarina: Passionato  [0'48]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 12: Chopin: Agitato  [1'18]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 13: Estrella: Con affetto  [0'28]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 14: Reconnaissance: Animato  [1'57]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 15: Pantalon et Colombine: Presto  [0'52]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 16: Valse allemande: Molto vivace  [0'55]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 17: Paganini (Intermezzo): Presto  [1'18]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 18: Aveu: Passionato  [0'53]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 19: Promenade: Comodo  [1'46]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 20: Pause: Vivo  [0'19]  recorded 8 May 1953
No 5 in G flat major, 'Black Keys': Vivace  [1'42]  recorded 29 June 1954
No 2 in F minor: Presto  [1'34]  recorded 29 June 1954
No 9 in G flat major, 'Butterfly': Allegro vivace  [1'05]  recorded 29 June 1954

This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".

Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The first three volumes in this series have assembled all Cortot’s surviving 78-rpm discs, recorded annually in London between 1947 and 1951, with the sole exception of Schubert’s Ländler which comprises track 2 of this programme. Cortot made no visit to Abbey Road in 1952 choosing instead to produce a sizeable tranche of recordings during just two days in early December at the Japan Victor Studios in Tsukiji, Tokyo, whilst on tour. (Released in their entirety by BMG Japan in 2005, we hear a determined, if exhausted, Cortot in an unflatteringly claustro­phobic acoustic.) When he returned to London the following year, Cortot began what was to be the final chapter of his lengthy English recording career and this CD, the last in APR’s survey of his late recordings, assembles the best of what he accomplished between 1953 and 1955. There were later recordings – those made in Paris for EMI’s French subsidiary, Pathé-Marconi about which rumours (as well as pseudo pirate copies) have circulated for decades. It is known that Cortot approached all Chopin’s Mazurkas as well as the complete Beethoven sonatas for Pathé-Marconi although nothing has ever been officially released.

The omens were good when Cortot began recording at Abbey Road in May 1953. Gone, at last, was the process of recording in 78-rpm ‘segments’, be it on wax masters or tape, which required the performer to start and stop every four-and-a-half minutes or so. The advantages of magnetic tape were now belatedly recog­nized: uninterrupted recording for subsequent release on LP disc began. (‘Highlights’ from these tapes would be released on 45-rpm 7-inch vinyl discs as well as the now old-fashioned 78-rpm shellac disc.) Tape enabled and liberated both artist and record producer and Cortot embraced these new opportunities with charac­teristic stamina and élan. Many full-scale works which the pianist had long wanted to record were tackled: Weber’s Second Sonata; Chopin’s two mature sonatas along with the Préludes, Ballades and Études; Schumann’s Carnaval, Symphonic Études, Kreisleriana and Fantasiestücke (Op 12). However, as the accompanying discography reveals, success proved elusive although it certainly was not for the want of endeavour or commitment on either side. Interpretatively, Cortot’s music-making was as passionate and virile as ever. Never one to dawdle, even in old age he had no truck with sedate tempi or ‘emergency rubati’ in the more technically demanding passages – the ‘Paganini’ move­ment of Schumann’s Carnaval being a rare if obvious exception. But, as is apparent from this programme, although Cortot more than squared up to the demands of the chosen reper­toire his always fallible fingers were at this time further undermined by illness. As a con­se­quence, the majority of his last London recordings remain unpublished, justifiably so as they reflect little glory on either pianist or recording company which, it should be men­tioned, put enormous effort into assembling master tapes. Only after this had been achieved was it really possible to determine whether the resultant performances would withstand artistic scrutiny. That stated, it has not been difficult to compile this programme from the published recordings of 1953/4. It is one which fully supports the claim of the late Thomas Manshardt, one of Cortot’s last pupils, that this period of Cortot’s career ‘is his greatest in thought and warmth and mastery, never mind the progress of Parkinson’s disease’.

Nevertheless, there are moments of glit­tering delicacy allied to crystal transparency – Cortot’s performances of Chopin’s Études Opp 10/5 & 25/2 and, perhaps, the Tarantelle, are remarkable for any pianist in his late-70s. And, of course, in slower movements Cortot’s ardent lyricism and poetry, his luminous and kaleidoscopic tone colours now captured as never before, remain undimmed and un­matched. Small wonder then, that in 1959 HMV took what at first might appear to be a bizarre decision to publish a coupling of the slow movements from Cortot’s Chopin sonata recordings. And there are other significant treasures not least a major Schumann work, teeming with life and character, as well as the pairing of Cortot’s fifth (and surely finest) pub­lished recording of his much-loved transcrip­tion of Schubert’s Litanie with his seductive and fearless despatch of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody.

The documentation of this series has previously been confined to Cortot and his relationship with HMV from 1947 and it is surely opportune to conclude with a reminder of some of the pianist’s most remarkable achievements. We are inclined to forget that he was so much more than the pianist we know on record. After a brilliant start – as a pupil of Decombes (himself a pupil of Chopin) and Diémer, the nineteen-year-old Cortot easily won the premier prix at the Paris Conserva­toire in 1896 – he then neglected his instrument in pursuit of Wagner. In 1898 Cortot went to Bayreuth and acted as répétiteur at the festivals there for three years before returning home to conduct the first Paris performances of Götterdämmerung, Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal (as well as Liszt’s St Elisabeth and Brahms’s Requiem). It was not until 1905 (when he teamed up with Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals to form what became the most acclaimed trio of the first half of the last century) that the piano fully re-entered his professional life. In 1919 he co-founded a new and influential conservatoire, the École Normale de Musique. As for repertoire, despite some claims to the contrary, Cortot embraced most of the piano literature of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Western Europe, displaying a unique empathy for Chopin and Schumann. There were also forays into the unexpected. A decade or so before it was appropriated by Horowitz, Cortot cham­pioned Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Con­certo. Remarkably, he con­duc­ted a perfor­mance with Horowitz as soloist in 1932 although it appears that neither musician was overly impressed with the other. Even more extraordinary, from the 1924 edition of Dent’s Dictionary of Modern Music and Musicians, we learn from a contributor – Philip Heseltine (aka Peter Warlock) no less – that Cortot had ‘expressed a desire to take up one of the concertos and the First Sonata of Kaikhosru Sorabji’!

Alfred Denis Cortot (1877– 1962) pianist and conductor, teacher and scholar, editor and author, was not only a protean musician but one of the last exponents of a highly personal, subjective style of per­for­mance. Fortunately his vast discography will always be with us.

Bryan Crimp © 2010

Other albums in this series
'Alfred Cortot – The Late Recordings, Vol. 1 – 1947 Schumann, Chopin & Debussy' (APR5571)
Alfred Cortot – The Late Recordings, Vol. 1 – 1947 Schumann, Chopin & Debussy
APR5571  Download only  
'Alfred Cortot – The Late Recordings, Vol. 2 – Franck, 'encores' & Debussy' (APR5572)
Alfred Cortot – The Late Recordings, Vol. 2 – Franck, 'encores' & Debussy
APR5572  Download only  
'Alfred Cortot – The Late Recordings, Vol. 3 – Chopin & Mendelssohn' (APR5573)
Alfred Cortot – The Late Recordings, Vol. 3 – Chopin & Mendelssohn
APR5573  Download only  
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