Norman Lebrecht Album of the Week 21 Jan

Piano Music of Dinu Lipatti by Luiza Borac, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Jaime Martin

Pianist Dinu Lipatti, who died in 1950 aged 33, was one of the greatest Chopin interpreters on record. But, as modern-day player Luiza Borac proves in her new album, he was also a composer of some talent.

Label: Avie

Rating 3

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The Romanian pianist, who died tragically young of Hodgkin’s disease in 1950, left some of the most intuitive and penetrating Chopin interpretations that exist on record. Lipatti’s death at 33 overlaid his image with a false frailty, like Chopin, his name mentioned in hospital whispers. Yehudi Menuhin said he was ‘the manifestation of a spiritual realm, resistant to all pain and suffering’.

Yet there was nothing ethereal about Lipatti who remained, to the end, a virile, robust player with a decidedly modern outlook. Between one recital and the next, he composed in a vivacious style, more for pleasure than posterity. This exploratory double album contains a good deal of music that has never been recorded – or enjoyed – before.

This exploratory double album contains a good deal of music that has never been recorded – or enjoyed – before

A Concertino, dated 1936, was clearly written to impress his Paris teacher Nadia Boulanger, the world’s foremost champion of Stravinsky’s neoclassical style. In it, Lipatti mimics and faintly mocks Stravinsky’s 1929 Capriccio, one of the most entertaining works of the epoch. Like an overly erudite classical DJ, Lipatti tosses in bits of Bach, Haydn, Enescu and Bartók, playing spot-the-composer with gleeful abandon. The 18-minute confection is fizzingly well played by pianist Luiza Borac and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, conductor Jaime Martin, a fun piece for social occasions.

Borac, a convinced Lipatti revivalist, takes us on through a sonata, a sonatine, a nocturne and a large fantasie, each of them original and derivative in equal measure. She follows up with Lipatti’s sparkling encore transcriptions of works by Albéniz and Bach. Evangelist though she is, Borac makes no excessive claims for this music beyond its simple attractions and wilful optimism. You will feel much the happier for hearing it.

Artists: Luiza Borac (piano), Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Jaime Martin

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific commentator on music and cultural affairs and an award-winning novelist. See his blog Slipped Disc.

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