Friday, March 15, 2013

Sunday Classics Preview: Remembering Van Cliburn


TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23: 
ii. Andantino semplice; Prestissimo; Tempo I

Van Cliburn, piano; RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, Kiril Kondrashin, cond. RCA-Sony, recorded mostly live in New York City, May 30, 1958

by Ken

In the quick remembrance I posted following the death of Van Cliburn, I ventured: "The easy way to go would have been with the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto, the piece that became so identified with him when he rocketed to fame in 1958 (at age 23) with his grand-prize win at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow." Well, now that we're approaching the closer listen to Cliburn's art I promised then, we're getting around to the Tchaikovsky First Concerto, but most people would probably be expecting to hear one of the fistfuls-of-notes outer movements, and here we are with, instead, the slow movement. Oh, there's some fireworks in the movement's accelerated mid-section, but when I think of Cliburn, I always think first of the seemingly effortless, un-self-conscious beauty of the playing -- beautiful in sound and expression.


A thicket of concerts in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington had been quickly arranged. Also arranged was the start of what turned out to be a permanent recording collaboration with RCA. The first recordings were of two powerhouse concertos with which he had triumphed in Moscow, the Rachmaninoff Third and Tchaikovsky First, recorded live in Carnegie Hall (with, apparently, studio touch-ups in the Tchaikovksy) with Cliburn's Moscow collaborator, Kiril Kondrashin, brought to the U.S. for the tour.

Naturally the first release was of the Tchaikovksy concerto. I'd be curious to know the actual sales figures over the decades for what must be one of the most famous classical recordings this country has known; I assume they're substantial. Given which, it's hard to quarrel with Jed Distler's notion, in his nice essay in the little book that accompanies The Complete Cliburn Album Collection (yes, mt copy arrived this week; I'll have more to say about that on Sunday): "It is fair to say that Cliburn's advocacy helped generate wider interest in this superb conductor." I'd be surprised if any purchaser of the Cliburn-Kondrashin Tchaikovsky First over these 50-plus years has felt cheated. (And while I know many people believe there has been a steady march of progress in recording technology, and therefore naturally assume a recording made today would sound 55 years better . . . well, I don't think so.)


Let's listen now to two super-famous Debussy pieces we spent some time with in a kind of massive April 2010 preview post ("Debussy -- the man who heard the music in moonlight"), "Clair de lune" and "La Fille aux cheveux de lin."

DEBUSSY: Suite bergamasque: No. 3, Clair de lune ("Moonlight")¹

DEBUSSY: Preludes, Book I: No. 8, La Fille aux cheveux de lin ("The Girl with the Flaxen Hair")²

Van Cliburn, piano. RCA-Sony, recorded in New York City, Jan. 20¹ and 22², 1972


It's not going to be any kind of formal tributed, but we'll listen to some more from Van Cliburn.

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At 12:27 PM, Anonymous robert dagg murphy said...

Thanks to Van Cliburn and bobby Fischer we won the cold war.


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