GHCD 2323 – Witold Malcuzynski with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Paul Kletzki – 1946-1949
Philharmonia Orchestra, Paul Kletzki – Conductor, Witold Malcuzynski – Piano
AUDIOPHILE AUDITION THURSDAY JULY 12 2007
The Chopin F Minor Concerto (20 November 1946) marked the first collaborative inscription from Polish piano virtuoso Witold Malcuzynski (1914-1977), who had established himself as a world-class artist in 1937, at the third international Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Malcuzynski brought a distinct pearly play to his naturally expansive, bravura style, and his repertory embraced music from Bach to Rachmaninov, Brahms to Szymanowski. The antiquity of tradition is present in both the Chopin Concerto and the Rachmaninov Third (26-27 April 1949), in that Kletzki takes significant orchestral cuts made in the scores that were fairly conventional at the time. The Chopin Concerto finds Malcuzynski in splendid, fluent form, easily rivaling his compatriot Rubinstein in seamless execution and polished, rounded phrases. The brittle Columbia shellacs of the period have been restored in good sound, but side breaks are a bit too noticeable. Besides the delicacy of touch and idiosyncratic rubato applied by Malcuzynski, what sells the performance is the stunning orchestral tremolandi in the Larghetto movement, as an anxious storm of emotion passes by the poet’s songlike recitative. The movement dances and ebbs as required, the London Times having called Malcuzynski “a masterly expositor of Chopin’s lyrical spirit.”
CBS at one time offered distinct performances of the Rachmaninov Third on record; along with Malcuzynski’s version, a competent realization existed with Cyril Smith. Here, Malcuzynski takes cuts which the composer authorized. Kletzki and Malcuzynski set a quick pace for the first movement, the horns and the pianist urging each other to swift runs and impressionistic color mixes. The CBS sound is distant, so we have blurred timbre in the woodwinds. The big line in the strings comes through, however, a taste of what Kletzki might have done with the composer’s E Minor Symphony. Lovely, suave legato passages from Malcuzynski, the sort of empressement that balances vigor with a light heart. The militant passages receive the Horowitz treatment, big spans and bold fioritura, with a liquid, forceful cadenza. Sweet harmonies for the Intermezzo, then a steady semi-martial pace for the Alla breve, runs, ornaments, and repeated notes in agile abundance, all synchronized tastefully with the veteran Kletzki. Restoration of the Rachmaninov suffers no unseemly joins.
MUSICWEB MONDAY JUNE 04 2007
Malcuzynski died in 1977 but it seems longer ago. He was one of the more glamorous and popular artists on the circuit but he doesn’t seem to have fostered much posthumous enthusiasm even from the serried ranks of pianophiles. Certainly reissues continue to appear but there’s been nothing that has really sought to get to grips with his legacy in a comprehensive way.
Guild has thought to conjoin the Chopin Second and Rachmaninov Third Concertos. It’s not a bad move as far as programming is concerned. The Chopin is a good performance made better still by virtue of Kletzki’s truly first class accompaniment. This is not some prosaic skeleton or apologetic collaboration – on the contrary. Kletzki generates some marvellously effective and assertive orchestral marshalling; fine colours, taut rhythms, sympathetic control in the slow movement. The tuttis in the first movement are cut. Malcuzynski’s playing is cultured if not quite the final word in delicacy. Unfortunately the issue is blighted by transfer problems. Firstly it is over-processed and consequently opaque. Maybe you could do what Mortimer Frank is always suggesting in another critical forum and re-equalise (if you can). But you’d still have to contend with a couple of first movement side-joins that really won’t do and with which you can do nothing. The second of them, at 6:05-6:08, is a real dog’s dinner. Pearl 0095 is noisier but better in this respect – though the companion works are entirely different; more Chopin, Szymanowski and Liszt’s Second Concerto.
In respect of side joins the Rachmaninov is better though it still suffers from noise reduction that blunts the frequencies. To my ears this should be a much more open sound and given that the Rachmaninov was recorded in 1949 there’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be. The performance seems to have divided auditors down the years. Some have found it too fast and frivolous, others have found it “overbearing” whilst adherents admire its fluency, virtuosity and intense drama. As with the Chopin – where he was partnered by Susskind in the stereo era – the pianist set down other performances; among them a Warsaw traversal with Rowicki in 1964 and a live Mitropoulos from 1956. I happen to enjoy this Kletzki-conducted performance. The first movement is very fast but the cadenza is finely controlled and the virtuoso and expressive demands of the concerto seem to me to be well accommodated – and notably well balanced. Certainly few could deny Malcuzynski’s driving eloquence in even the thorniest passages.
So a rather unbalanced disc. The performances are generally very recommendable as examples of Malcuzynski’s immediate post-war way with both concertos. Any soloistic limitations are compensated for by conductorial excellence in the Chopin; the driving tension of the Rachmaninov is deepened by the pianist’s probing romantic affiliations in the slow movement. I just wish the transfers were better.
By Gerald Fenech
Witold Malcuzynski Plays
Historical Recordings from the Collections of the Zentralbibliothek Zürich
These recordings although filling a void in Paul Kletzki’s and Witold Malcuzynski’s recorded legacy are rather staid without much to contribute to the historical reissue debate. Although one can admire the high technical standard of these recordings, the rather dull 1946 sound tends to dampen proceedings a bit especially with the orchestra rather too recessed.
The composer’s own magnificent recording of the 3rd concerto is in a league of its own and Malcuzysnki does play the music with passion and verve but there is that last ounce of involvement that is distinctly lacking. The same goes for Chopin’s concerto although here, the music is of a rather unremarkable quality in itself and quite difficult to bring off.
Still, according to the excellent notes, the Polish pianist was an authority in Chopin and one really cannot question this.
One can only praise Guild for raiding the exceptionally rich Central Bibliothek Archive in Zürich and one can only hope for further recordings from this source especially from artists who have been overlooked or neglected in this great historical revival.