Friedrich Gulda

Beethoven: Klavierkonzerte 1 & 4; 4 Bagatellen

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This 2010 U.S. release is dedicated to Austrian pianist Friedrich Gulda "for his 80th birthday," which is notable in that at that time Gulda had been dead for 10 years. The album is illustrative of the esteem in which the brilliant but mercurial Gulda is still held. As promised, this album delivers performances by the young Gulda; in January 1953, when the two Beethoven concertos were recorded live, he was 22 years old. It's easy to see why he made a splash: he was daring, and he had an indefinable star quality that made audiences hang on his every move. Notice how he virtually takes over the stage from the rather stolid Vienna Symphony in the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15, or opposes a chilly stoicism to the orchestra's angry bleats in the slow movement of the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58. Gulda always had a knack for going right up to the edge of being gratuitously shocking but not crossing the line; sample the piano sforzando that introduces the first forte orchestral section (at about 25 seconds) in the finale of the Piano Concerto No. 4 for some prime Gulda tricks. The biggest find here is the group of four bagatelles from the late Op. 126 set, recorded in three different locations (including Quito, Ecuador) in the late '50s. These are among the most profound versions of these little pieces ever recorded, spot-on in their feel for how seemingly innocent material suddenly becomes embroiled in mind-boggling subtlety. The sound ranges from fair to poor, and in a Viennese January there is some coughing to be heard in the crowed, but for the Gulda fan these are choice finds.

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