SCHUMANN:  Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54. (recorded October 12/13, 1934). CHOPIN:  Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21 (recorded July 8, 1935)
Alfred Cortot, pianist; London Philharmonic Orch/Landon Ronald (Schumann); Orch/John Barbirolli (Chopin)

NAXOS 8.110612 (B) (ADD)  TT:  60:58

Alfred Cortot (1877-1962) was a pianist in the grand style, idiosyncratic to the extreme, a superb technician who seldom found time to practice.  There is a sense of improvisation present even in his recordings.  His lapses in memory are legendary.  Sir Thomas Beecham said, describing an episode of forgetfulness when accompanying Cortot,  "We started with the Beethoven, and I kept up with Cortot through the Grieg, Schumann, Bach and Tchaikovsky, and then he hit on one I didn't know, so I stopped dead."

Don't expect note-perfect performances in these grand interpretations, Cortot's only recording of the Chopin Second, recorded in 1935 with an anonymous orchestra, his third of the Schumann (the first was an acoustic made in 1923, the second an electric made in 1927 -- all conducted by Landon Ronald).  I can still remember when very young (many years ago!) listening  repeatedly to the second movement of the Chopin (Victor Album M 567) marveling at the incredible sensitivity combined with bravura in this performance.  Both the Schumann and Chopin receive impetuous readings that command attention.  Barbirolli often conducted concerto accompaniments (he had  recorded  the Chopin Second in 1931 with Artur Rubinstein ) and copes admirably with Cortot's waywardness.

Mark Obert-Thorn's transfers are superb.  The Chopin was issued about a decade ago on Pearl in a transfer by Seth B. Winner Sound Studios (GEMM CD 9491).  Transfers on the Pearl set are excellent, but it appears MOT had a better set of masters to work with.  The full-priced Pearl CD also offers Cortot's magnificent performance of Saint-SaŽns' Piano Concerto No. 4 and Ravel's Left Hand Concerto (both conducted by Charles Munch) and one of Cortot's showpieces, Saint-SaŽns' Etude en forme de Valse.  All of these are on the next Naxos Cortot CD, plus Franck's Symphonic Variations -- surely a CD to await with interest.   Highly recommended.

R.E.B. (Aug. 2001)