Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 and No. 2 (CD review)

Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Kiril Kondrashin, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT.

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.

Sviatoslav Richter
Comparing the HDTT and Philips Solo discs side by side, I found the HDTT product overall a tad richer, warmer, and fuller, and the Philips disc a touch clearer, more transparent. At least that was my initial impression during the opening movement of the first concerto. As I kept switching back and forth between the two, however, I realized things were not quite so simple. On occasion, the Philips disc sounded warmer and the HDTT clearer. Go figure. By the time I had finished listening to the sound of both concertos, I was ready to throw up my hands in despair of picking a sonic winner. Which is probably saying a lot for the work HDTT did, given that Ms. Cozart Fine had the master tapes to play with, whereas HDTT had only the commercial tape.

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


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa