Friday, December 17, 2010

The Quiet Genius - Clifford Curzon

He was a truly diffident, unassuming and introspective man, who just happened to be one of the truly great English pianists of the twentieth century.
That quiet, ruminative manner translated, innately or otherwise, into his unique manner at the piano.
Actually, he is the only great pianist I am aware of who seemingly sublimated the music he performed simply by way of a natural kind of suppression of his own entity to create some of the most singular approaches I have ever known; for instance, in a performance of the legendary Liszt Sonata I heard as a youngster, the kind of intensity of drama so germane to the name Liszt was never in evidence in this performance. For the only time in my life I heard Liszt played in a kind of setting that cannot be described in words - the sounds of Liszt were precisely as powerful in text, but in a way that was so pure in projection, that the drama came simply from the sounds Curzon gave me without a trace of his personality as part of the propellant - it was not so much the usual or expected human endeavor, in emotional terms, but rather a direct confrontation with the intellect of the composer without hubris or melodrama.
Now there was, and perhaps still is, another recording of the Liszt filled with false notes and a rather shoddy and disoriented reading of this sonata, and to this day, I do not know how it ever met the light of day. This kind of performance would occasionally be given by Curzon, who was in fear of live performances and shunned them, unlike Horowitz, who in fear played regularly until he went into one of his many retirements in order to reestablish equilibrium. Curzon was also uncomfortable in many of his recording sessions. Seemingly, his search for the unattainable; namely Perfection, overcame his efforts, from time to time.
But there are recordings of Curzon out there of Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven, which are absolutely marvelous and enlightening. He did study with Schnabel for a period, which led into his specializing of the music of these masters.
If you are not familiar with Curzon, I would certainly advise your listening to this singular, quiet genius. I think that you will be enraptured.

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