Clifford Curzon

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5; Mozart: Divertimento, KV 131; Symphony No. 33

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In nearly every way, this disc opens with a superb performance of Beethoven's E flat major Concerto. English pianist Clifford Curzon was a stupendous soloist with a virtuoso's technique, a poet's soul, and a lover's touch. Hungarian Conductor George Szell was a superlative conductor with a master's technique, an artist's insight, and a tyrant's temperament. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, being Thomas Beecham's orchestra, was thoroughly used to this sort of aesthetic combination and together, Curzon, Szell, and the LPO created a performance of rare intensity and rarer still inspiration.

So what's wrong? In a word, the remastering, or, to be more specific, the pitch fluctuations. They riddle the opening Allegro and the closing Rondo, making the performance almost impossible to listen to without flinching. While those who lived through the flawed surfaces of LPs may be able to tolerate the clicks, pops, and scratches that permeate the remastering, even they may be appalled by the all-too-frequent slips and slides of the pitch, turning a superb performance into a roller-coaster ride of a recording.

Despite this egregious flaw, this disc is still absolutely worth hearing because of the fillers -- Mozart's Symphony No. 33, K. 319, and his Divertimento No. 2, K. 131. Performed by Szell and his Cleveland Orchestra in 1955 and recorded by Epic, these are brightly played and brilliantly conducted performances that have heretofore not been issued on CD. And, blessedly, the re-release is free of pitch fluctuations and nearly free of clicks, pops, and scratches, allowing the listening experience to be one uninterrupted pleasure. Thus, while half the disc is virtually unlistenable, the other half is as good as it gets.

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