Back to historic concerts. This week it’s a performance from the 1979 Wurzburg Mozart Festival in 1979, featuring the Bavarian Radio Symphony, conducted by Leopold Hager with the legendary Sir Clifford Curzon, piano.
Two works in this rather short concert – beginning with the Divertimento in D Major K. 251 – followed by the appearance of Sir Clifford, who joins the orchestra in a performance of the Piano Concerto in C Minor K. 491.
A little information on Sir Clifford Curzon if you aren’t already familiar, via his Wikipedia page:
Curzon built a successful career as a soloist, enabling him to resign from the RAM in 1932. In addition to frequent concerts in Britain, he toured Europe in 1936 and 1938 under the auspices of the British Council, and made his US debut in 1939, returning regularly for many years after the Second World War. In his early years as a star soloist Curzon played a more Romantic and virtuosic repertoire than that associated with him in his later career. Established pianists of the time generally ignored concertante works by such composers as Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Vincent d’Indy and Frederick Delius, with which Curzon made a mark. He was also known for his espousal of new music, giving premieres and early performances of works by Germaine Tailleferre, John Ireland, Alan Rawsthorne and Lennox Berkeley among others. During the war, shortage of time prevented him from undertaking the British premiere of Aram Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto, but his friendship with Benjamin Britten led to many joint concerts by the two musicians.
Curzon was a highly self-critical performer, and although he signed for the Decca recording company in 1937 and remained with them throughout his career, he was rarely at ease in the studios, and frequently refused to allow the release of recordings in which he felt dissatisfied with his performance.
After the war Curzon began to limit his appearances in the concert hall and recording studios, devoting himself to extensive periods of private study. Throughout his career he maintained a rigorous regime of practice, playing for several hours every day.
Curzon increasingly concentrated on less virtuoso repertoire than hitherto. He became celebrated for his performances of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. Max Loppert, his biographer in Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, wrote that in the works of these Austro-German classical masters “he was unequalled for sensitivity and directness of manner, beauty of tone and an inner stillness. In such works as Mozart’s Concerto in B♭ K595, his unique combination of nervous energy and Olympian calm earned him a reputation as a supreme Mozartian.” Another biographer of Curzon, William Mann, wrote:
“The virtues which he applied to Mozart’s piano concertos—he regarded them as the most perfect music ever composed—included line-drawing that colours itself and a control of structure through harmony and feeling for ensemble, which was overwhelming when the conductor was sympathetic. He achieved them with Britten often, and also with Daniel Barenboim and Sir Colin Davis.”
Curzon suffered throughout his career from stage fright and, unlike most star pianists, he played not from memory at concerts but with the score on his music stand.
Curzon died in September 1982, aged 75. He is buried next to his wife in the churchyard of St Patrick’s, Patterdale, near their holiday home in the Lake District. On his gravestone are inscribed the opening words of Franz von Schober’s poem “An die Musik”: “Du holde Kunst” (O fairest art), familiar from Schubert’s setting.
Enjoy – it’s Wednesday after all.