CHOPIN: Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53. Scherzo in B-flat minor, OP. 31. Impromptu in G-flat, Op. 51. LISZT: Transcendental Etude No. 10. Hungarian Rhapsody No.6. Gnomenreigen. Valse-Impromptu. Grand Galop chromatique. FRANCK: Symphonic Variations.
Georges Cziffra, pianist; French National Radio Orch/Georges Cziffra, Jr. cond. BONUS: WAGNER-LISZT: Tannhäuser Overture (Benno Moiseiwitsch).

SCHUMANN: Arabesque in C, Op. 18. Papillons, Op. 2. Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6. BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2 "The Tempest." Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# minor, Op. 27 No. 2 "Moonlight." Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90. BONUS: SCHUMANN: Novelletten, Op. 21 No. 1. BARTOK: Out of Doors, Nos. 4 & 5 (Dino Ciani)

RAVEL: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16.
Samson Francois, pianist; Monte-Carlo National Opera Orch (Ravel); French National Radio Orch (Grieg); Louis Fremaux, cond. BONUS: Chopin: Preludes, Op. 28 (Nos. 8, 6 and 24) (Maurizio Pollini)

Georges Cziffra (1921-1994) was born in Budapest, studied piano with his father and when he was nine years old entered the piano class of Dohnányi at the Liszt Academy. After a promising start to his career he was called for military service and was a prisoner-of-war for several years beginning in 1941. It wasn't until 1947 that he was abe to resume his studies and career. He won the prestigious Franz Liszt Prize after which he was widely acclaimed for his performances of Chopin and Liszt and, later, for his stupendous virtuoso performances of his own transcriptions. In spite of wide acclaim, he (like Horowitz at one point) abandoned his career until the early 1990s when he gave a concert in Paris. The death of his son Gyorgy in 1981 at the age of 41 was a major blow to him. His son had a promising career as a conductor and was his father's favorite accompanist. For EMI they had recorded together Liszt's two concertos, Totentanz and Hungarian Fantasy, Grieg's concerto and Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2. On this valuable DVD Cziffra can be seen at the height of his powers, at his best in the Liszt pieces mentioned above, particularly Grand Galop chromatique. The Chopin pieces are interpretively rather understated but beautifully played. The solo works were filmed at the Champs-Elysees Theatre in Paris May 3, 1961 and in French National Television studios Sept. 25, 1963. Franck's Symphonic variations receives a highly reflective performance with an undistinguished accompaniment by the weak-sounding French National Radio Orchestra with the pianist's son on the podium. It is quite touching to see the two Cziffras acknowledging applause at the conclusion. All films on this DVD are black and white films with the camera focusing unduly on the pianist's face. In Gnomenreigen camera work is bizarre; at two points the view is from the underside of the keyboard! And now we come to the "Bonus," and it is, indeed, just that—an extraordinary performance by Russian pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963) filmed in the BBC Studios Nov. 3, 1954. His playing of one of the most difficult works for piano, Liszt's transcription of Wagner's Tannhäuser Overture, is quite phenomenal in every way. There is no audience and at the conclusion he turns toward the camera, wipes his brow, and wishes us goodnight. (Moiseiwitsch's 1938 recording of this music is available on a budget Naxos CD (8.110669).

Samson François (1924-1970) was an erratic pianist, a precocious prodigy who played a Mozart concerto when only six, studied with Marguerite Long, and "acquired his technique from listening to Vladimir Horowitz 78s." And his technique, indeed, was prodigious, as was his imagination. After he was recognized in the concert world he spent much of his time in Paris clubs and all-night bars listening to and playing jazz, living the supreme Bohemian life. He played Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 5 with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in 1947 (and later recorded it for EMI with Witold Rowicki conducting), and toured rather extensively, although he sometimes missed concerts reportedly because of drug abuse. In 1955 he received the Grand prix du Disque for a Chopin disk and recorded most of the composer's music—highly idividualistic performances, always played with the utmost imagination and virtuosity. In spite of Jean-Charles Hoffelé's effusive DVD notes, performances seen on this DVD will do little to sustain the pianist's image. Ravel's Left Hand Concerto was a specialty of his, but in this performance there are a number of slips in his playing of this very difficult score. It was recorded in concert in the Salle Playel in Paris, Oct. 24, 1964 with the Monte-Carlo Opera Orchestra conducted by Louis Frémaux providing a rather poorly-played accompaniment. Why Hoffelé praises this performance of Grieg's concerto isn't clear to me—Françoise is erratic in his conception, and the orchestra, this time the French National Radio ensemble again conducted by Fremaux, isn't very distinguished. The "Bonus" on this DVD is Maurizio Pollini playing three Chopin preludes (Nos. 8, 6 and 24) from a Paris film May 4, 1960 in which he very much resembles the composer! Too bad the bonus is only six minutes long! The entire DVD is black and white with adequate camera work. If you'd like to hear François at his best, listen to his EMI recordings of the two Ravel concertos, or solo piano works of Debussy, Chopin and Ravel.

The DVD of performances by legendary pianist Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) is an important issue. He was a major figure of the 20th Century with a wide range of repertory that focused on Beethoven and Schumann, music featured on this DVD. Kempff's links to the past are legendary;when he was born Brahms was still alive, and Kempff had performed with many major conductors of the past including Artur Nikisch and Wilhem Furtwängler. He recorded Beethoven's concertos several times. His 1953 set with Paul van Kempen and the Berlin Philharmonic usually is considered to be his finest although he would record a set in 1962 in stereo with the same orchestra conducted by Ferdinand Leitner. The performances of Schumann's Arabesque and Papillons on this DVD are from a Paris French telecast of Feb. 3, 1961 when the pianist was 65. Davidsbündlertänze was another French telecast from a concert at the Besançon Festival Mar. 4, 1963. Beethoven's Sonata No. 17 is an informal performance before a small audience, apparently students, in Paris Oct. 24, 1968. The other two Beethoven sonatas were filmed in ORTF studios Nov. 21, 1970 eleven years before his final public concert. It is a privilege to watch this fine artist performing, but I could do without the many super close-ups—do we really want to see his nose filling half the screen—which happens often? The 1968 film is in magnificent color, the others are black and white. The "bonus" on this DVD features short works of Schumann and Bartók played by Dino Ciani, Italian pianist tragically killed in a car accident in 1974 when only 33. He already had endorsements from Carlo Maria Giulini and Claudio Abbado, and his death was, indeed, a loss the music world.

R.E.B. (March 2004)