The pianist who brought Furtwängler to a standstill

The pianist who brought Furtwängler to a standstill


norman lebrecht

December 27, 2021

One of my holiday treats was listening to newly discovered private tapes by the Italian pianist Pietro Scarpini, who died in 1997.

Scarpini was a fairly marginal figure in Italian music, much addicted to modern music and especially to keeping alive the memory of Ferruccio Busoni, whose monumental piano concerto he performed at La Scala, Milan, and recorded with Georg Szell.

The truly staggering new release, however, is a 1952 radio concert of Beethoven’s G major concerto with Wilhelm Furtwängler, where the soloist forces the conductor to go slower than he wanted, then slower still… it’s shadow-boxing of a very high order.


  • Szell and Scarpini performed the Busoni Piano Concerto in Cleveland (stunningly.) The concert was recorded and broadcast (I have a tape) but not commercially recorded. Whatever is out there derives from the broadcast. The Cleveland Orchestra did make a commercial recording much later with Garrick Ohlsson and Christoph von Dohnanyi.

    • James P. Co says:

      And, please note that there is a magnificent recording
      of Busoni’s “Piano Concerto” by Gunnar Johansen and
      the NDR Orchestra conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isser-
      stedt from 1956. Johansen’s performance is stagger-
      ing. [The CD is available from “Music and Arts Pro-
      grams of America, Inc.].

      James P. Colias, Trustee
      Gunnar and Lorraine Johansen Charitable Trust

      • Herb says:

        So when can we buy all those Johansen recordings again? That corpus is beyond price should all be made available. There would be a few people interested in a 100 CD boxed set (or whatever the total would come to). A no-brainer as far as I am concerned.

    • Joel Lazar says:

      And interestingly, in an interview at the time he made the Cleveland recording, Garrick recalled having heard Scarpini, Cleveland and Szell play the Busoni at Carnegie Hall…I heard him only about ten years back play Busoni with the National Symphony, still phenomenal….

  • Joel Lazar says:

    Moreover, the broadcast tape has a significant cut in the big slow movement–I wonder if Scarpini had agreed to that in all performances or if this was one of those exigent steps taken for reasons of broadcast duration. Scarpini’s La Scala performance was, I believe, with Jascha Horenstein conducting.

  • christopher storey says:

    Can’t hear this myself. What does strike me is that Furtwangler was incapable of maintaining a consistent tempo throughout the first tutti . Every time the bar ( measure ) contained a long note, it became extended by perhaps half a beat and then slowed down further . This tendency for the msuic to grind to a halt is also very noticeable at about 8 minutes in, and if anything again it was F slowing things up

  • Off in Bach says:

    Scarpini/Szell/Cleveland Orchestra performed the Busoni Piano Concerto in Carnegie Hall in February, 1966. Harold Schonberg’s NY Times review states that Szell took 2 small cuts in the third movement.

    • Jack says:

      And nine days earlier on January 26, Gunnar Johansen played the same piece in Carnegie with the American Symphony Orchestra, Daniell Revenaugh conducting. It brought a strongly positive review from Mr. Schonberg.

  • Edoardo says:

    It is not a new discovery or released at all!!

    I have it on CD published by the (now defunct) Italian label NOTES in 1992, catalogue number PGP 11021. The CD contains:

    Beethoven: Piano concerto n. 4 with Scarpini, Rome 1952
    Beethoven: Great fugue, Salzburg 1954
    Weber: Euryanthe, ouverture (Pairs 1954 + Torino 1954 with Berliner Philh)

  • Fred Wanger says:

    As to the Beethoven 4th what evidence do you have of anything other than excellent accompanying? It is a terrific performance.

  • Fred Wanger says:

    What evidence do you have in the Beethoven 4th of anything other than a terrific performance beautifully accompanied?

  • mdr30 says:

    Which cadenza is Scarpini playing in Beethoven’s 4th?