Van Cliburn died today. I remember as a kid being confused because he didn’t seem to have a first name; the only other “van” I knew was Ludwig van Beethoven.
Here he is in Moscow back in 1962 playing the leave-no-prisoners finale of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto with Kiril Kondrashin and the RCA Symphony. (He won the Tchaikovsky Competition four years earlier.) We get a glimpse of Nikita Khrushchev applauding from a box at the end.
For its 75th anniversary, Tanglewood is providing 75 recordings from its audio archives. They provide a free stream of a work each day, and then put it on sale. So far the recordings range from James Taylor in 2009 to Munch and the Boston Symphony playing Bach in 1955. The prices are cheap — about a dollar per ten minutes of music. So far I’ve bought Rudolf Serkin playing Mendelssohn’s First Concerto with the BSO under Ozawa from 1975, and Van Cliburn playing Rachmaninoff’s Third with the BSO and Leinsdorf from 1966.
The sound in the Mendelssohn is a bit distant, and the engineers seemed to have individually miked the people with colds so their coughs could be heard over the clatter of the music. But I love the piece, and Serkin seems to own it. I had his version with Ormandy and Philadelphia for a long time. I played the beautiful second movement in the eighth grade, but the passage work in the finale was too much for me. Here is Serkin playing the finale:
I saw Serkin at Symphony Hall towards the end of his life playing the last three Beethoven piano sonatas. That was a peak musical experience.
A special treat on this recording was listening once again to the patrician tones of William Pierce introducing the piece. He was to the BSO of that era what Johnny Most was to the Celtics.
The sound of the Rachmaninoff is better than that of the Mendelssohn, even though it was recorded nine years earlier. I have never liked Rach 3 as much as Rach 2. The first movement works for me, but my mind always seems to wander during the finale. I can’t tell if Cliburn took the cuts that are pretty standard in the third movement — maybe I’m not the only one whose mind wanders. Here he is playing (most of) the first movement in Moscow in 1958 during the Tchaikovsky competition that he won:
The Tanglewood project makes me wonder why the BSO and other orchestras don’t make their enormous backlist of concerts available for purchase. I can understand that there might be rights issues with soloists and guest conductors. But what about standard performances with just the orchestra and the BSO music director? Surely the tapes still exist–the BSO currently sells a few compilations “From the Broadcast Archives”. Do they think there’s not a market? Why not release a few and find out?