Valuable addition to the Ciccolini discography

Rachmaninov & Mozart: Piano Concertos

Aldo Ciccolini (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin

It is most pleasing that the LPO have chosen to release this CD containing a performance from each of Aldo Ciccolini’s last two concerts in London. The disc begins with a performance taken from the second of these two concerts; a concert to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Thomas Beecham, the founder of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert began with Weber’s overture to Oberon and concluded with a performance of Schubert’s ‘Great’ C major symphony.¹

At the time this concert took place Aldo Ciccolini was a couple of months past his 86th-birthday. However age was not an issue; his fingers were fleet and perfectly controlled and his musical awareness as acute as ever. Whilst this concerto is performed with a sense of eagerness befitting of a much younger man, Ciccolini’s many years of experience can be heard to inform every note in this D minor piece. D minor is a relatively unusual key for Mozart.² There is a certain grimness in the first movement of this concerto, perhaps giving a glimpse of the grave. Nézet-Séguin’s relationship with the pianist is especially apparent in this movement, where the piano is initially brushed aside but then returns to lead the orchestra through several different keys, in the central development section, prior to the movements sombre ending. In the first, of three, appearances of the soloist in the Romance, Ciccolini’s sound floats aristocratically over the gently throbbing strings. Following the cadenza in the initially stormy third movement the performance ends more brightly in D major.

A hugely enjoyable recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466 that not only brought back fond memories but to which I shall return frequently. It is certainly to be preferred to Ciccolini’s performance with the Orchester National de la Radiodiffusion Française under Constantin Silvestri.

The second concerto on the disc is Rachmaninov’s hugely popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 recorded in the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall on 12 October 2011, once again with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the London Philharmonic. Not a work, I suspect, that many readers would associate with Ciccolini, who is perhaps best known for popularising the works of Eric Satie. This performance of the old war-horse is  absorbing and unaffected. Ciccolini has no need to add decorations or intervene with anything novel or contrived. His style suits the Mozart work, and his beloved French music, extremely well but he is not someone that I would return to for Rachmaninov.³

So **** for the Mozart and *** for the Rachmaninov. This is a valuable addition to the catalogue and one that I can happily recommend to readers interested in the performances of, the much underrated, Aldo Ciccolini and to followers of the LPO. However, much as I admire Ciccolini I cannot help but wish that the LPO had chosen to release the whole of the ‘Beecham’ anniversary  concert.

iClassical rating: 

Stream on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

¹ If my memory serves me correctly, the second movement was delayed in starting when Nézet-Séguin caught sight of an usher removing a brief case from the auditorium!

² Later used by Mozart in the damnation scene in Don Giovanni and in his Requiem.

³ Perhaps my views were coloured by having listened to the composer himself playing the piano on an outstanding 1922 performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski on Pristine Classical (to be reviewed shortly).