Exceedingly rare Clifford Curzon Brahms video

Sir Clifford Curzon was an unchallenged master of the Brahms concertos.

This recent upload appears to be the only video recording available of him playing with orchestra.


The orchestra is RAI Torino, the conductor Ettore Gracis, the date November 11, 1966.

Another world.

 

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  • To say ‘unchallenged’ seems a bit of an overstatement when there were people like Serkin, Backhaus, Solomon, Fleisher, et al around. He was a very good pianist though.

    • Just listened to this superb performance once again. Certainly the above pianists form a list of supreme pianists. Wilhelm Backhaus certainly had a long history with this concerto and was to record it for the last time only six months after this performance. However, in my opinion only Solomon
      could produce the glorious tone that was such a feature of Curzon’s playing.

  • Thanks for putting this up, Norman- delighted to have got to know of it and appreciate it from a previous share.

      • Agreed, and thanks for this treasure. This is playing of a kind seldom heard today and I wish more people recognised what’s gone missing.

  • In 60 years of listening I have never encountered a performance of the Brahms 2nd as effecting as this. As you say Norman, just the music. Gracies must be mentioned for the sensitive participation of the orchestra and the ideal tempos established throughout the performance. Seeing Sir Clifford completes the picture of this remarkable musician.

  • Absolutely superb!!! Thank you for posting this priceless opportunity to witness one of the very greatest in performance……..!!

  • Thanks, Norman, for unearthing this. Clifford Curzon was never served well by the gramophone (there is a 1958 recording of him with Barbirolli in the Halle Centenary Concert which one can quickly forget) and we have precious few recordings that show him at his best (and his best was absolutely world-class). Curzon toured Germany in late 1967 with the BBC Symphony and Colin Davis and set audiences alight with performances of the Brahms B flat. He was, in my opinion, one of the very finest interpreters of this work and I was privileged to hear him playing it live in 1968 in partnership with the NPO and Giulini. Incidentally, fans of this great pianist should also check out the recordings on the Audite label of Curzon together with Kubelik (another match made in heaven) performing the Beethoven G major and E flat concertos in Munich in 1977. Beethoven’s fourth is sublime (and that is not a word I use very often to describe a musical performance).

    • It is a touch unfair to put blame on the gramophone. Sir Clifford’s recording company had one hell of a time getting him to enter a recording studio, and, if he consented, then often had a worse time getting him to approve the release of the resulting recording. A perfectionist in highest measure, he left so much unreleased and, as he suffered appalling performance anxiety — likely related to his perfectionism — releases of concert performances are not always the happiest events. But “the gramophone” certainly tried its best. I just wish they had been more successful, for he was one of the titans.

    • I’d like to add Curzon’s Brahms F minor sonata recording to the special performances you mention.

    • I vividly remember the 1967 BBC Symphony Orchestra tour with Colin Davis. In those days the BBC broadcast the concerts live and I remember that that after one concert featuring the Brahms concerto it was decided to play it again at the next concert instead of the scheduled Mozart K.595. This meant reorganising the rest of the programme, Beethoven’s 4th symphony was substituted for No.6. Sir Clifford had been my idol ever since I was a child and his performances of the Beethoven G major seemed to signify various stages in my life, the first concerto I ever heard, my first London concert, my first prom. Holidays were arranged around his appearances and by shear coincidence the last time I heard him was here in my own city Exeter on 11th June 1982 only a matter of weeks before his death. Again it was the Beethoven 4th with the English Sinfonia under Stuart Bedford.
      A superb artist and lovely gentleman whose many knidnesses to his fans will never be forgotten.

    • And perhaps Luca Chierici, who uploaded this to YouTube, whence it comes here, at his even better.

  • This is amazing to see and to hear, a true artist at work and wonderful playing, all the while remembering Curzon passing at age 75 in 1982. Curzon’s health problems caused some cancellations, one of which was at the Horsham Music Circle Recital program, on May 10, 1968, a program that was played at the last moment by Andre Tchaikowsky.

    http://andretchaikowsky.com/miscellaneous/horsham_b.jpg

    Mention of “the only video recording available of him playing with orchestra” reminds me of the only known video of Polish pianist Andre Tchaikowsky (Andrzej Czajkowski) playing with orchestra, in this case, the Prokofiev 3rd piano concerto with the Swedish Radio and Television Orchestre conducted by Sixten Ehrling.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwodaNjwIHA

    These are wonderful testaments of pianists from years gone by and thanks to Slipped Disc for making them available to all.

  • Perhaps the problems I’ve had trying to listen to CC have been related to recordings vs. live performance. In this video, for me, he demonstrates more apt vitality in the first 4 minutes than in the entire recording with GS of the D minor concerto and the Mozart he recorded with Istvan Kertesz. When I have a chance I’ll listen to the entire performance but to date, again for me, nothing compares to the 1963 Fleisher/GS/CO recording.

  • Was fortunate enough to work with him during my early years on the Minnesota Orchestra staff ( 1966-72 ) .
    He was a fine musician with high standards and then some.

  • A great find by a superb master. A mesmerizing performance which unfortunately would not pass the first round of any major competition nowadays. I’ll take this kind of gripping performance over any of the finger perfect dry and boring pianists we hear today. Bravo Sir Clifford and thank you Norman Lebrecht.

    • I too was enchanted by Curzon’s performance, but disagree about your generalization regarding today’s pianists. Arguably some of today’s well known pianists may be overrated and uninteresting. On the other hand, if we look beyond the media headlines, we always find wonderful artists. When it comes to Brahms’ music in particular, a few years ago I heard live Nicholas Angelich play the second piano concerto, and found his performance as insightful and satisfying as they get.

  • I would urge anyone interested in CC to listen to the 1953 live performance of the same piece with George Szell & the NYPO at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YSPK9Jyjy8. The sound is harsh and the Allegretto is closer to Allegro but the performance is imo nothing short of electrifying. Based on having now heard CC recorded live, albeit in the same piece, I would agree that his studio recordings do not serve him well.

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