After the rough and tumble of full orchestral Berlioz and Wagner, I thought it was about time for some piano music.  So here are two of my favourite living pianists with a mind-blowing encore thrown in.

The Leeds International Piano Competition has enriched our lives by “finding” a succession of truly great pianists.  Even the runners-up are awesome: Mitsuko Uchida in 1975, Lars Vogt in 1990 - and Bernard d’Ascoli came third in 1981 when Peter Donohoe came a distant fifth and Ian Hobson (who has not yet achieved lasting greatness) won,  which might possibly say something about the nature of competitions of all sorts.   Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia were successive winners, in 1969 and 1972 respectively; and they share a sense of touch and poetry that few others can match.

So when they came together to record Mozart and Schubert, it provided piano playing of unforgettable empathy.  Here is Schubert’s Fantasia in F Minor, D940 for 4 hands (i.e. both on the same piano),which right from the start takes to you a world of calm but very very deep waters.  To find the disc on most streaming agents type in Mozart Schubert Lupu Perahia.  The other main work is Mozart’s Sonata in F Minor K 448 for two pianos, which is also wonderful.  Here is the Schubert on YouTube with the music added.

And if you want to buy it on Amazon (as you should, if you don’t have it already).

And if that is not enough, here is Radu Lupu playing Brahms.  The Op 117 Intermezzi are the distilled essence of late Brahms. He wrote them with Clara Schumann in mind; and when he sent them to her, she wrote back that “in these pieces I at last feel musical life stir once again in my soul.”  Not a bad sentiment for locked-down music in our time.  Here is number 1.  It is also the distilled essence of Radu Lupu’s playing.  This would always be on my Desert Island Discs. Here it is on YouTube. Here is the disc on Amazon. Streaming: Brahms 117 Radu Lupu

And now for something rather different: both Perahia and Lupu can also do “brilliant” playing, though they are never flash.  But Perahia’s version of the fiendishly difficult Chopin Op 10 Etudes sparkles like crystal waterfalls.  (Confession: his version knocked the mighty Maurizio Pollini of his perch as my top recording.  Shame on me!).   Here it is on YouTube or on Disk. Streaming: Chopin Etudes Op 10 Perahia

AND NOW for an astounding encore.  If my three pieces and performances are already well known to you, you will also know that Godowsky decided that the Chopin Etudes were not difficult enough.  So he rewrote them, making them about twice as difficult.  Few pianists try them even in the recording studio; even fewer play them live.  But Boris Berezovsky has made them his party piece.  And what he does is to play the Chopin original and then follow it with the Godowsky version.  Fortunately, there is a good YouTube from Mexico City in 2005.

The Chopin is thrilling; the Godowsky is out of this world.  Just watch his right hand, particularly as he thunders out descending octaves that no one in their right mind should play like that.  Berezovsky didn’t come to Leeds.  But he did win the Tchaikovsky competition in 1990, joining illustrious predecessors such as Van Cliburn, Ashkenazy, John Lill and Mikhail Pletnev.

And you can find Berezowsky’s Chopin/Godowsky on disk.  Streaming: Chopin Godowsky Boris Berezovsky should do the trick.

Next week, who knows? But “may musical life stir once more” in all our souls.

by Jeremy Stuart-Smith