BBC Legends – Rudolf Serkin

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.12 in A, K414
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466
Six German Dances, K571
Prelude and Fugue in C, K394

Rudolf Serkin (piano)

English Chamber Orchestra
Alexander Schneider (violin & director)

Recorded in London – at the Guildhall on 23 July 1966 (Concertos, German Dances) & the Royal Festival Hall on 13 May 1968

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: January 2005
BBCL 4157-2
Duration: 79 minutes

This is rather special. In fact, it has a particular resonance for me. Shortly after these recorded performances – heard here in good, mono sound – Rudolf Serkin, Alexander Schneider and the English Chamber Orchestra came to the Edinburgh Festival for a series of three Mozart concerts, which included these same concertos as well as the C major (K467) and Double Concerto, the latter with Serkin’s son Peter. I was fortunate to attend the rehearsals. At the time it seemed some of the most wonderful Mozart playing imaginable. Nearly 40 years later it still seems just as extraordinary.

Rudolf Serkin was never the most elegant of players but at his best he was undoubtedly one of the most profound. Consequently, he tended to do the dramatic rather than the galant Mozart particularly well. So it is here. The D minor concerto receives a performance of unremitting tension and power, even in the central ‘Romanze’. Not a comfortable listen, maybe, but one which gets to the very heart of the music. Of course, it was a huge advantage having an orchestra of the calibre of the ECO at this time, still at something like its very peak under Alexander Schneider, a long-time Serkin collaborator, directing from the front desk, violin in hand, which is not disclosed in the booklet’s annotation.

The A major concerto with which the CD opens is an altogether slighter work and one whose rococo charm finds a less suitable champion in Serkin. One almost senses him searching in vain for depths that simply are not there in this, nevertheless, agreeable music. How wonderful it would be if BBC Legends managed to find other Mozart performances from the Edinburgh series – for example, No.14 (the E flat, K449) was listed as available for rebroadcast on BBC Transcriptions DD14. Interestingly, K466 and the German Dances are also listed in the BBC Transcriptions Catalogue as having been from the 18th Edinburgh Festival rather than the Guildhall. Could it be that these are in fact the Edinburgh performances? Or did the BBC really record the same programme twice – in London and then in Edinburgh?

I would like to close with a brief vignette. During a break in rehearsals, my teacher – a wonderful, indomitable German-Jewish lady called Suzanne Lachmann who had played chamber music with Serkin before the war – and I made our way to the stage at the Usher Hall. At first Serkin – who was short-sighted – did not realise who it was. Then his eyes filled with tears. They had not seen each other for more than 30 years.

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