Chopin – Friedrich Gulda

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11 [re-orchestrated Balakirev]
24 Preludes, Op.28
The Four Ballades
Barcarolle, Op.60
Nocturnes – F sharp, Op.15/2; C minor, Op.48/1; B, Op.62/1
Waltz in E minor, Op.posth.
Epitaph für eine Liebe

Friedrich Gulda (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boult [Piano Concerto]

Recorded February 1954, Kingsway Hall, London (Piano Concerto); 4 April 1955, Zurich & 10 May 1955, Graz (Preludes); 14 March 1955, Trieste (Ballades); 19 May 1956, Buenos Aires (Nocturne, Op.15/2); 5 July 1960, Buenos Aires (Barcarolle; Nocturne, Op.48/1); 13 July 1986, Munich (Nocturne, Op.62/1); 7 March 1955, Reggio Emilia (Waltz); 13 July 1986, Munich & 8 December 1986, Vienna (Epitaph)

Reviewed by: Christopher Breunig

Reviewed: May 2010
CD No: DG 477 8724 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes



This compilation is a homage by Friedrich Gulda’s pianist-son Paul drawn from a range of private mostly mid-1950s ‘live’ tapes, reinstating the Boult/Decca studio recording of the E minor Concerto (using a revised scoring by Mily Balakirev) and concluding with sections from the pianist’s complex 1986 programme Epitaph for a Love – largely improvisations on Chopin’s C minor Prelude, heard in ghostly sotto voce during ‘Despair’ which involves delving into the bowels of the piano, plucking and strumming over its strings. In the middle of it, Gulda begins to ‘sing’ in what is apparently a Viennese dialect. (He may be doing it ‘his way’ but he’s no Sinatra, and you may want to skip this track, ‘Just Visiting’, although the included text is rather touching.) The 24 Preludes are collated from two 1955 performances given on different instruments, a Steinway and an early Bösendorfer. Decca had issued a studio set two years earlier, and there was also a 1955 10-inch LP of the Ballades.

Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000) was a controversial figure, technically gifted (there’s a video of the Emperor Concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic and Szell where one marvels at his thumb/forefinger trills!) to the extent that nothing seemed to challenge him. A sense of nonchalance could haunt his playing. His jazz forays ruffled a few conservative feathers, notably Brendel’s: “I never much liked him … I found it deplorable whenever Gulda played his own compositions after an evening of Beethoven” [“The Veil of Order”, Faber].

What makes this set important (and I confess a bias: Gulda was the soloist with Eduard van Beinum conducting at my very first Royal Festival Hall concert) is that it defines his extremes, especially in Epitaph. If the turbulence in the First Ballade probably reflects Gulda’s own unrest as much as Chopin’s – and the presto passages in both this and Number 2 are rather disproportionately fast – he is extremely capable at suggesting moods of loneliness, rumination and withdrawal. There’s a fine elegance in the playing too, and so it’s a shame the mono tapes blur and become overloaded in loud, fast passages (the remedy is to keep the level down). The Preludes are thoughtfully conceived although it would have been better to have had one or other performance rather than the alternation of pieces and pianos. The Waltz is friskily capriciousness and conveys the frisson of a live event; one could hardly find fault with the great C minor Nocturne, a superb account.

Gulda is also well supported by Boult in the concerto, where he shows great sensitivity in the slow movement and virtuosity in a rapid account of the finale. Made when Gulda was 24, this recording has come up well in the transfer.

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