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Pianist Firkusny Travels the Middle of the Road

Recorded on tape in New York City between 1956 and 1959, these digitally remastered performances document the remarkably versatile and stylish Czech-born pianist Rudolf Firkusny, who died three years ago at age 82.

A student in his earliest years of composer Janacek, Firkusny was an elegant and aristocratic musician--often called patrician--who played a huge repertory and kept in touch with many composer-colleagues--including Martinu and, less famously, Philip Glass. These three CDs (out of a series of six), representing the tip of the repertorial iceberg, reflect the middle of the road works Firkusny seemed to specialize in for three generations of piano followers.

Delicacy and logic characterize the pianist’s fluent Chopin playing, which seldom reaches a high level of self-expression or heroism, yet thoroughly touches the composer’s quiet rhetoric.

Somewhat more passion but the same sort of distancing marks Firkusny’s playing of solos by Brahms. Best on this disc is the self-effacing yet poetic pianism and model chamber-music manners shown in the two sonatas of Opus 120.

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Violist Primrose is well past his prime here, but Firkusny’s articulate and unfaltering piano-playing never fails to sing.

At a time when Debussy’s esoteric side seems to dominate consideration of his compositional virtues, it is nearly startling to rediscover the composer’s shallow works, pieces filled with cuteness and character, and as far aesthetically from “Pelleas et Melisande” as Debussy ever got. Firkusny retains his personal elegance, yet the treacle overflows.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four (excellent).

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