Two great pianists from Sony’s back catalogue celebrated: Rudolf Serkin (Sony 88985404072,75 cds) and Robert Casadesus (Scribendum SC506, 30cds)

Photo on 06-08-2017 at 09.53.jpgYears ago these two were the regular in-house players for Sony’s classical repertoire, with the odd foray backwards to Bach (both recorded the ‘Italian’ Concerto) or forwards to Bartók (the First Concerto with Serkin and Szell, the Sonata for two pianos and percussion with Robert and Gaby Casadesus). The principal difference between the two sets, discographically speaking, is that while Sony include absolutely everything that Serkin recorded for Sony (not least, in terms of concertos, four Brahms B flats and four Beethoven G majors), Scribendum select just one version of a particular work – the Ravel Concerto for the left hand being a fair case in points, also Beethoven violin sonatas with Zino Francescatti. Then again they also include material that isn’t part of Sony’s legacy, including a magnificent French Brahms B flat under Carl Schuricht, complete with wobbly opening horn solo and some ham-fisted chords – but the power of it, the cutting staccatos, expressive flexibility (from both pianist and conductor), the epic sweep of the performance: wonderful! Serkin with Eugene Ormandy (they collaborate on no less than three recordings of the work) is scarcely less imposing, especially the version from 1956. Stylistically, Serkin’s your man for subtle asides, even though occasionally prone to coarseness while Casadesus favours crisp articulation, that crispness sometimes suggestive of a frosty ‘edge’, and a propulsive rhythmic attack. Comparing the two in various Mozart concertos spins a telling tale. I’d value any comments here on the board.

Best, Rob.

4 thoughts on “Two great pianists from Sony’s back catalogue celebrated: Rudolf Serkin (Sony 88985404072,75 cds) and Robert Casadesus (Scribendum SC506, 30cds)

  1. Hans Koers

    I’m looking forward to the massive Rudolf Serkin set, even though it’s pricey and he’s not really one of my favourite pianists, but I’m on a “pianist binge”…


    1. Well please do binge Hans. Yesterday afternoon I listened to the mid-fifties Beethoven concertos with the Philadelphia under Ormandy – a superb accompanist – Nos. 1 & 4 to start with and what most struck me about them is the combination of serenity and drama, especially in the first movement of No. 4 – from a rippling ‘piano’ to a big, full-bodied ‘fortissimo’. Both finales are just about the best I’ve ever heard, virtuoso, playful, and delicate with real badinage between the pianist, orchestra and conductor. Also, Prokofiev 4 (for left hand) and Bartók 1, as different from the Beethoven as you could imagine, angular and purposeful – aggressively modernist in the latter, poignant in the latter’s slow movement (so many gradations of expression, so much nuancing). This is the great thing with Serkin, each work is taken on its own terms. Various Mozart concertos are romantic and subtle enough to prompt an instant replay – not for Serkin the common ‘typewriter’-style despatch of this music – though Casadesus is marvellous too. Comparing the two in the piano and wind quintet is interesting, there RC really in hard-hitting and in your face. Serkin’s duo and trio performance’s with his father-in-law Adolf Busch are priceless – easily the match of their pre-war predecessors (on Warners) – and as for the various Beethoven sonatas, Serkin’s approach suggests impulse and unstoppable resolve, as well as occasional brilliance (ie, the two versions of the Fantasy Op.77 and the finale of Op. 78, the earlier version especially). If you derive half the pleasure I’ve already derived from this set you’re in for a treat and the transfers I’ve heard so far are marvellous. The great Artur Schnabel once talked about music that’s greater than its possible performance: Serkin’s interpretative ethic is the same except he was Schnabel’s superior, technically speaking. With very best wishes. Rob.

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  2. Since we’re in the mood for great artists, I’ve just come across an amazing Youtube upload of Ferenc Fricsay rehearsing and then performing the Moldau from Ma Vlast recorded in 1960. The performance is amazing, the emotion palpable — and what a great conductor!


    1. Yes Peter, I’ve seen this … and the only rehearsal sequences I’ve seen that come near it feature Carl Kleiber, another conductor who, like Fricsay, seemed to have that uncanny ability to draw music out of the ether. One of the greats as you say, his versions of Verdi’s Requiem are peerless and so is Kodály’s Psalmus hungaricus with Haefliger (the live stereo version). Very best. Rob.


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