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Cortot Electrical Recordings

Chopin, Liszt etc

Includes Chopin Ballade No 1, Berceuse, Etude Op 25 No 1, Waltz Op 64 No 2, Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos 2, 11, Handel Harmonious Blacksmith, Brahms Lullaby, Weber Invitation to the Dance.

Naxos 8.111261

This fascinating CD is essentially a collection of 78s, Cortot’s electrical recordings from 1925-6. Obert-Thorn rightly prides himself on his transfers. Not even he can preserve the tonal qualities of the recorded sound without letting in a great deal of hiss, but underneath the extraneous noise, we hear Cortot’s great musicality. We may learn little new about the pianist or even the music, but such poetry of interpretation is always to be celebrated.

Pride of place on this CD is the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody 11, where the 78 was never issued. Of the Chopin, the Berceuse is typically both ravishing and deep. Among the other tracks that deserve mention are Cortot’s extremely wilful but deeply felt Harmonious Blacksmith, and a witty Invitation to the Dance that perfectly captures Weber’s light touch.

Did Cortot play too many wrong notes? This is an impossible question, since everyone played according to the standards of the time, and of course today’s critic frequently wonders how many of the greats of the past would simply have never surfaced had they been obliged to conform to modern conventions on accuracy. Certainly, in the harder passages of something like Chopin’s Ballade, there are some eye-popping errors, but more often, it is just that notes do not sound, which is less disturbing within the flow of the music.

You probably know without reading a review if you want this CD. If you do, you will not of course be disappointed, either by the playing or the technical results.

Ying Chang