Great Pianists Of The 20th Century, Vol. 7
Vladimir Ashkenazy - piano
This set is part of Philips Classics' "Great Pianists of the 20th Century" series. While overall the series producer made some dubious choices of artists for inclusion in this immense survey, he did retain the good sense to showcase Ashkenazy, an artist who truly merits such a distinction. Considering the various pianists who had two or more volumes of their material issued, the decision to devote only one volume to Ashkenazy is puzzling. Yet the repertoire choices here have mostly been admirable and do represent a fair measure of the scope and stature of Ashkenazy's musicianship and pianistic achievements. Yet two composers are not included here who should have been: Mozart and Scriabin. Ashkenazy's first solo Mozart disc from about 1970 remains one of his finest achievements, including a pristinely haunting account of the Rondo in A minor, K. 511, and a stylish yet powerful reading of the Sonata in A minor, K. 310. Both performances deserve to be here. Scriabin is one of the composers closest to Ashkenazy, and certainly some of the Russian composer's music deserved a place here rather than the slight Borodin Scherzo. I would also question the inclusion of Schumann's "Humoreske", which is a very fine performance but not one of Ashkenazy's greatest. And I think some samples of Ashkenazy as a concerto soloist and partner would have been appropriate, rather than restricting all the selections to solo recordings -- which is why a Volume Two should have been produced. Still, without doubt some of Ashkenazy's finest recorded achievements are enshrined in this set. The buyer will hear perhaps the most blazing performances of Liszt's "Transcendental Etudes" ever committed to disc (sample "Feux follets" or "Wilde Jagd"...) as well as some of the most eloquent and pianistically rarefied solo Chopin, including a "Barcarolle" to rank with Dinu Lipatti's. Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit" (the early stereo version, not the digital remake) is awesome in its uncanny fusion of absolute control and menacing vision. And what can one say of Ashkenazy's Rachmaninoff, represented here by the analogue "Corelli" Variations (not the digital remake)? Perhaps no artist has ever identified more closely with this music, or probed its poetry more deeply, including the composer himself. The piece from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" pierces the heart with its lyric vision, and represents the pianistic art of Ashkenazy at its zenith.