Fanfare

Here is a curious concept album—devoted to the memory of a pianist, but mostly played by someone else, and with an eclectic choice of repertoire not even particularly closely associated with the honoree.

Maria Curcio (1919–2009) was an Italian-born pianist of exceptional promise, whose studies with Schnabel were interrupted by the war, and whose playing career never really recovered from wartime upheavals and an associated legacy of health problems in later life, despite the support of Britten, Giulini, and Klemperer, among others. But she ended up building an incredibly successful teaching career in London from the 1960s. Not only was she an inspirational force for a generation of British pianists (including Anthony Goldstone, I need hardly add); the list of those who sought her advice at one time or another includes Argerich, Fleisher, Lupu, and Uchida.

Goldstone’s chosen program reflects her national ancestry (Italian/Brazilian), teachers she studied with (Schnabel, Casella), canonic 18th- and 19th-century repertoire she (or any other piano pedagogue) would have taught, and even pieces that happened to have been inspired by the name Maria in various contexts (Schubert/Liszt, Reger). But it all works surprisingly well, with some interesting rarities as well as provocatively thoughtful approaches to the standard fare. It is a nice touch to end with Schumann’s Widmung , with its subtle parting quotation of the opening piece, Schubert’s Ave Maria.

Goldstone is an artist of real substance, and his Mozart and Beethoven are strongly assertive and characterful, valuable additions to these pieces’ substantial discography. The Chopin polonaise is tangy and idiomatic, if less effortlessly virtuoso than some. The Liszt arrangements are technically accomplished and well characterized, if slightly monochromatic ( Ave Maria ) and a little too serious ( La Danza ). Casella’s variations (the chaconne is “La Folia”) are a nice discovery, as are Schnabel’s waltzes—an engaging brew of Johann Strauss, Schumann, and Reger—though they could use a lighter touch than Goldstone gives them. The only real disappointment is the Villa-Lobos, rather heavy and unidiomatic. The recording is close and resonant.

As a substantial bonus we get a rare glimpse of Curcio herself, in a memorable collaboration with Schwarzkopf (fiery, intense, and virtuoso). On this evidence, she was indeed a pianist of rare artistic sensibility—fluid and refined playing, with a delicately supple animation. She does not elaborate Mozart’s skeletal (shorthand) left-hand basses, but this was par for the course for the time. Klemperer’s direction is characterful, with a strong rhythmic profile. The performance is also available, in identical (very good) sound on the RCO Live label, in the orchestra’s own anthology of live performances from the 1950s. It certainly qualifies for classic status.

I was not convinced by the idea of this collection to begin with, but ended up being won over by the combination of Goldstone’s artistry, imaginative programming, and the rare distinction of Curcio’s own playing. Recommended.

—Boyd Pomeroy