Lazar Berman, Piano With Klaus Tennstedt Conducting The Finnish Radio Symphony – September 5, 1978 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
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Another historic concert this week. This time it’s the Russian piano legend with Klaus Tennstedt leading the Finnish Radio Symphony in performances of music by Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Salinen and Dvorak. No exact recording date, but this broadcast (via NPR and announced by the equally legendary Fred Calland) is from September 5, 1978.
The concert begins with a performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano concerto number 1 with Berman, followed by the Scriabin Etude as an encore. Then over to something a bit newer with Symphonic Dialogue For Percussion and Orchestra by Aulis Salinen. The concert ends with Dvorak’s Symphony Number 8.
This is from the Guardian’s Obituary of Berman from 2005:
The Russian pianist Lazar Berman, who has died aged 74 of a heart attack, was a virtuoso in the grandest of grand traditions. Long confined to the Soviet Union and its then communist satellite countries, he began his international career only in the mid-1970s, achieving extraordinary celebrity through performances of great power and command.
Born in Leningrad, Berman was taught the piano by his mother from the age of two, and by Samary Savshinsky of the Leningrad Conservatory from the age of three-and-a-half; his recital debut came at four. In 1939, the family moved to Moscow, and Berman continued his studies with Alexander Goldenweiser at the Central Children’s music school – his concerto debut given with the Moscow Philharmonic when he was 10 – and then, from 1948 to 1953, at the Moscow Conservatory, where his postgraduate studies continued until 1957.
At the time he entered the Queen Elizabeth international competition in Brussels in 1956, such events were star-studded: on that occasion the competitors included Vladimir Ashkenazy, John Browning and Cécile Ousset, and the jurors Arthur Rubinstein, Emil Gilels and Annie Fischer. Berman came fifth, and a European tour followed, including a 1958 London recital of Beethoven, Prokofiev and Liszt at the Royal Festival Hall.
However, though Gilels had already described him as “the phenomenon of the musical world”, Berman was then confined to the Soviet Union for 17 years from 1959, possibly because of his marriage to a French woman.
None the less, his reputation was still able to grow through recordings on the Melodiya label, starting with unforgettable accounts of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies, first in 1959, and again to even better effect in 1963, once stereo was available. Releases of such repertoire, displaying an unbridled degree of brilliance and romantic rhetoric, followed in profusion: a disc of Rachmaninov’s Six Moments Musicaux also included a scarcely credible performance of Chopin’s B minor Étude, opus 25 no 10, where Berman’s seamless legato octave technique is heard at its height.
Once he was free to resume international touring in 1976, he took London, Paris, New York and the rest of the musical west by storm, appearing with such celebrated conductors as Karajan, Giulini, Abbado, Bernstein and Barenboim, and with orchestras such as the Berlin and the New York Philharmonics. Extravagantly billed as “the world’s greatest living pianist”, he played to awe-struck audiences in programmes that often included the Liszt and Rachmaninov works known from the early recordings; new recordings included Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov’s Third.
From 1980, at the height of his success, he was beset by further travel restrictions after the discovery of banned American books in his luggage. In 1990, he left Moscow to teach in Norway and Italy, where he eventually settled. By then, musical fashions had changed, and his popularity faded. In semi-retirement, he concentrated on teaching and appearances on competition juries, where his concentration and enthusiasm were clearly challenged.
Modest but witty in conversation, he once told me that he didn’t play Scarbo, the demonic gnome that follows evocations of a water sprite and a gallows in Ravel’s suite Gaspard de la Nuit “because I don’t like it, and because it is a perfect gibet for the pianist. Generally speaking, I play what I like. It is the simplest and best criterion.”
Relax and enjoy.