Clara Haskil

Clara Haskil: Philips Recordings, 1951-1960

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There must be more to Clara Haskil than merely her defective technique. There would have to be, or Philips would not have reissued this seven-disc collection of her recordings made between 1951 and 1960. But, after listening to Haskil play, it's hard to say what that more might be. In the solo works, Haskil's tempos are full of extravagant rubato and unscheduled accelerandos, while her textures are thick with smudged inner lines. In the works with orchestra, she's the same only more so with unexpected tempo changes that leave the conductor scrambling and a tone that only rarely manages to rise above the level of the orchestra. Of course, all that interpretive heaving and hoing came standard equipment with her training in the French post-Romantic style by Alfred Cortot, but even for that famously sloppy school, Haskil was an amazingly sloppy pianist. Listen just to her 1959 performance of the first movement of Schumann's Piano Concerto with Willem van Otterloo and the Philharmonisches Orchester Den Haag: listen to the smashed chords of the opening flourish, to the flailed double octaves at the first theme's climax, to the callous shallowness of her second theme's tone, to the missed notes in the build up to the third theme's climax, and especially to the buckets of dropped notes in the cadenza's hardest passages. Though she can get through the easier works here, and though she does bring to slow movements a species of barely restrained intensity, there is not much more to Haskil, finally, than the vicarious thrill of her nervous excitement. Unlike Philips' golden and glowing later piano sound, the sound here is dim, gray, and grim even in the more recent recordings.

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