Herbert von Karajan

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 21 & 24

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For years after this 1950 recording of Mozart's beloved C major Piano Concerto was released, every pianist whom Herbert von Karajan condescended to accompany was beaten with the same stick: "Sure, he's good, but he's no Dinu Lipatti!" But what else could one say? Not only did Karajan choose to accompany some of the lesser lights in the international virtuoso circuit, even if he'd bothered to accompany the crème de la crème, whoever it was, he'd be no Dinu Lipatti. Lipatti was, of course, one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century, yet one whose reputation hangs on so short a career and so few recordings. Nevertheless, in his handful of recordings, Lipatti demonstrated he had it all -- a technique so superlative that you never noticed it was there, a tone capable of infinite gradations of sound and inflection, and taste of such essential humanity and quintessential sublimity that Michelangeli seems vulgar by comparison. One of only four Lipatti concerto recordings -- the others are Grieg, Schumann, and Chopin's First -- this Mozart C major is at the same Olympian level as everything he did, with impeccable articulation, pellucid tone, and interpretation of transcendent compassion. Even Karajan, not yet the music director of Europe, is humble in the presence of Lipatti's playing, and he leads the ad hoc Lucerne Festival Orchestra in an accompaniment that's a model of tact.

Unfortunately but inevitably, it can fairly be said of Walter Gieseking that he is no Dinu Lipatti. Gifted with a lovely tone and an affecting interpretive style, Gieseking was often fumble fingered and heavy handed. Fortunately and surprisingly, it can also be said that his 1953 recording of Mozart's C minor Concerto, with its controlled technique and contained interpretation, is one of Gieseking's best performances and Karajan is likewise at his most congenial.

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