Schumann & Grieg: Piano Concertos (XRCD review)

Radu Lupu, piano; Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra.  LIM XR24 012.

Robert Schumann's and Edvard Grieg's Piano Concertos in A minor form a part of that rarified group of Romantic piano compositions inhabited by the likes of Beethoven, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninov.  As a kid, I always got these works mixed up, each of them splendidly grandiloquent as they are.

"Big," I think, is the operative word in describing them, and that is exactly the kind of performance we get in each work from pianist Radu Lupu, with Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra in support.  Yet these are not blustery, bombastic interpretations.  They are full of life and vitality and incisive freshness, too.  Lupu is not afraid of attacking the big crescendos with vigor, while applying the most gentle and sensitive touches to the poetic middle sections.

If both the Grieg and the Schumann tend to wind down a bit after their memorable opening movements or lack something in strong orchestral writing, you can't blame that on Lupu, Previn, the LSO, or the LIM/Decca recording.  It's the way they were written, not quite holding together to the very end the way Beethoven's "Emperor" does.  But the Lupu team give it their best shot and produce felicitous results (although not, I don't think, quite as fetching overall as Stephen Kovacevich, with Colin Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Philips, who tends to be a bit more lyrical and refined while sounding just as big and dramatic).

Anyway, to match the "bigness" of the music and the resplendent reading of Lupu and company, in 1973 Decca gave them a big recording, very wide and very dynamic, with the piano front and center.  It's been a showpiece ever since, and now the folks at LIM (Lasting Impression Music, a part of Winston Ma's First Impression Music, FIM, group) have remastered it in the demanding XRCD/24 process that comes about as close as one can get to replicating the master tape.  True to form, the sound is now bigger than ever, slightly fuller, and even more dynamic.

Oddly, though, I didn't find the orchestral parts in either the original Decca recording or LIM's remastering quite as clear or transparent as the very best releases from these companies, especially LIM remasterings like the Albeniz Suite Espanola, Herold-Lanchbery La Fille Mal Gardee, or Mozart Divertimenti, which are pretty much state-of-the-art.  And there are several brief instances on the Schumann/Grieg disc of low-end rumble, traceable, no doubt, to the master tape.  No, what the Grieg and Schumann pieces do provide the listener, and why LIM chose to remaster them, I'm sure, is the kind of brawn that makes showing off one's stereo system so much fun.

Again, however, don't expect night-and-day differences between this LIM remastering and Decca's own CD.  For XRCD/24 masterings you pay a premium price for subtle distinctions, the kind that may not even show up on mid-fi audio setups.  These are recordings for connoisseurs, and certainly for fans of the material.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa