- Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37
- Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
Of the pianists whose names evoke awe from classical music lovers of a certain age, Romanian-born Clara Haskil is among the hardest to get a grip on for the modern listener. Underestimated during her lifetime and troubled by physical problems, she left only spotty traces of her artistry on recordings. Thus any addition to the Haskil discography is welcome. This one's not going to be part of any "desert-island collection" as touted on the cover, but it has its unique moments. The downside is the low quality of the original mid-'50s live recordings. The more troublesome of the two is that of the Beethoven "Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37," with volleys of coughing such as only Bostonians can deliver when the weather starts to turn ugly. But even the "Piano Concerto No. 4," recorded in Paris at the height of vacation time, has its share of noise. If you can put this out of mind, you begin to see why people made it a point to hear Haskil when they could. Her long view of Beethoven's structures was unmatched (or was matched only by Schnabel, and Haskil got the notes right). The fourth concerto is the stronger of the two on the disc, for Haskil found an ideal partner in conductor Andre Cluytens and the Orchestre National de France. The whole performance is a series of sharply drawn little contrasts between soloist and orchestra, with logic to them all. Haskil is thought of as a restrained pianist, but in the slow movement she pushes the piano's sad, mysterious response to the orchestra's stomping giant just about as far as it can go. The final movement is a joyous romp that brings out the work's connections to the Dionysian "Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92." Haskil and Cluytens together forge a constant series of surprises like slight accelerandos at phrase ends, but playfulness always expands into heartfelt warmth. The treatment of the movement's lyrical B flat major interlude is sharply chiseled in every detail. In the "Piano Concerto No. 3," as well, Haskil is highly dramatic (note how she draws on the piano's initial entrance) rather than restrained. This is a disc for collectors rather than general listeners, perhaps, but it is one that collectors of classic piano performances will want to hear.