Very few discs can lay claim to being definitive recordings of particular classical works. Carlos Kleiber's DG rendering of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony comes to mind as definitive; maybe Reiner's Bartók Concerto for Orchestra and Pollini's Chopin Piano Concerto. And for the purposes of the present review, it's Sviatoslav Richter's 1961 LSO accounts for Philips of the two Liszt Piano Concertos, here remastered by HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers).
For over half a century Richter's recordings of the Liszt Piano Concertos have remained the benchmarks by which other recorded performances have stood or fallen; Richter's are interpretations of volatile beauty, excitement, and poetry. Yes, especially the poetry. No one quite captured the lyrical pleasures of these concertos as Richter did, all the time conveying the big moments with an equally virtuosic skill. That's not to say I've always liked Richter in everything he's done; he sometimes appeared to me a bit too cold, too distant; but here in the Liszt he captures the bravura of Liszt, the color, and the introspection.
What's more, Maestro Kiril Kondrashin matches Richter's intensity, and the London Symphony plays with consummate skill. In fact, no one involved with this project was less than excellent. The performance is a classic, to be sure.
Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart Fine of Mercury Records recorded the two concertos for Philips in 1961 on 35mm film, and HDTT transferred the music to disc from a Philips 4-track tape in 2014. The first CD version of these 1961 recordings appeared some thirty years ago in what I thought sounded like carelessly overbright transfers, with an alarmingly higher-than-usual tape hiss. Then Ms. Cozart Fine remastered them for a Philips Solo disc in 1995 and rectified most of the first CD's shortcomings. Now we have the HDTT remastering, and it's as good as or better than ever.
Advantages and disadvantages? First and foremost, there could have been more material on the HDTT disc. The fact is, the two concertos are under twenty minutes apiece, leaving close to forty minutes of free space on the disc. The Philips Solo disc couples the concertos with Liszt's Sonata in B minor, also with Richter, making it a better bargain for its playing time and added attractions. On the other hand, the HDTT disc is easier to find (see below), while Philips, being out of business for many years, last produced their disc over two decades ago, and it may prove difficult to find new copies. Moreover, HDTT make their remastering available in a wide variety of disc formats, digital downloads, and price points, which could prove attractive to a lot of potential buyers.
For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: