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So, I was thinking about and listening to Van Cliburn's performances and recordings, especially his USSR concerto recordings. Somewhere in the YouTube comments section, I got this feeling that people think his interpretations are kind of trite. Although I love his Romanticism and heartfelt interpretations, I can see their perspectives. He does emphasize/voice things a bit too, what should I say, "sentimentally," if you know that I mean. In addition, he makes changes to some Rachmaninov pieces, such as Sonata 2, in which he plays this piece mostly original, but adds some 1931 elements.

Typing this, I was just reminded of a masterclass I had with a very famous Rachmaninov interpreter. He said that I want to be expressive, but I don't want to "van Cliburn it."

At the end of the day, I think he was one of the best American pianists in the 20th century, especially back in 1958, when he contributed to the gradual thawing of US-USSR relations. What do you guys think?

Examples:
http://youtu.be/Fl7S3GEQdLA?t=2m27s
http://youtu.be/3Ln94wkGtUQ?t=12m42s (He does the Ossia cadenza)

Last edited by iObsessed; 01/03/15 10:37 PM. Reason: Added examples
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Originally Posted by iObsessed
....I think he was one of the best American pianists in the 20th century, especially back in 1958, when he contributed to the gradual thawing of US-USSR relations. What do you guys think?

I absolutely agree -- even without giving him any 'extra credit' for his possible political effect (which I do), and also involving his playing at later times. As I've said here a few times, I have about 20 recordings of Brahms 2nd Concerto, and Cliburn's, recorded in 1972, is my very favorite. To me, the warmth, love, and sheer beauty of his performance are unmatched.

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Originally Posted by Mark_C
I absolutely agree -- even without giving him any 'extra credit' for his possible political effect (which I do), and also involving his playing at later times. As I've said here a few times, I have about 20 recordings of Brahms 2nd Concerto, and Cliburn's, recorded in 1972, is my very favorite. To me, the warmth, love, and sheer beauty of his performance are unmatched.


Do you have those recordings on CD or on vinyl? It'd be interesting for someone to have his original, vinyl records.

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Originally Posted by iObsessed
Do you have those recordings on CD or on vinyl? It'd be interesting for someone to have his original, vinyl records.

All the Cliburn recordings that I have are vinyl.

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I have most of Cliburn's recordings on vinyl. I love his playing--he sounds like Lhevinne reincarnated.





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Hello iObsessed -

More than a few pianists regard Cliburn's interpretation of the Rachmaninoff 3rd Concerto to be the finest ever recorded for its lyricism. As with any artist he had his strengths and liabilities. No one ever accused him of being just another keyboard mechanic. It is all a matter of tastes and preferences as always. His technique was always rock-solid in its workmanship, and yes, as you indicate, he could be sentimental to a fault, but never insincere.

Have you listened to Rachmaninoff himself playing his concertos? Nobody sings the melody the way he does: http://www.stokowski.org/sitebuilderfiles/241222_Rachmaninoff_Conc2_mvmt1_begin_F4.mp3

Cliburn indicated that he had been pushed onto stage since early childhood and by the time he won the Tchaikowsky competition he was already an exhausted veteran - he never had an interim period in his youth to explore and develop as most pianists do, and I believe that led to his early retirement. Although he was obviously highly intelligent, he did not seem to be relentlessly curious about repertoire, and apparently hit an artistic brick-wall in middle age, and bowed out.

The most luminous tone I ever heard in person, by far, came from Arthur Rubinstein and Van Cliburn - very different sounds, both astonishing, and you will not hear those sounds on any of their recordings, it had to be heard live in a hall. But I must also mention the consistently gorgeous sonorities realized by Earl Wild as well as John Browning, both of whom I heard repeatedly. If anyone playing today can produce a comparable sonority I have not heard them at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center during the past decade.

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i've said before that, if forced to choose one album to take with to a deserted island, for me it might well be van cliburn's "my favorite brahms".

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A couple of weeks ago, I listened to the "My Favorite Chopin" disc - for the first time in ages. I was struck at how unfussy, unforced, and unpretentious his playing was on those sessions.

Refreshing.......

Last edited by Gerard12; 01/05/15 09:05 AM.

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My knowledge of Cliburn is restricted to recordings. Sadly, he retired long before I started going to concerts, and I was never able to catch any performances after his brief reemergence. As with any recorded legacy, there are high, middle, and low points. The Rachmaninoff Third Concerto, a warm, lyrical performance that proves the piece is more than a pianistic warhorse, belongs in every record collection - despite a rather lackluster accompaniment from the Symphony of the Air. Cliburn makes the best case I've heard for the heavier, chordal cadenza. The Prokofiev Sixth Sonata and Barber Sonata rank with the best - and the Brahms Handel Variations is one of my favorite versions. Many of the other recordings, including works by Chopin, Liszt, and the impressionists, rank as solid but seldom first choices - of course, the same thing could be said about the bulk of Vladimir Ashkenazy's copious output. The low point for me was the opening movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, played rather loudly and lacking in atmosphere.


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i must add that i once had the privilege of hearing van cliburn play live, mid to late 60's at the mississippi river festival on the campus of SIUE, with the st. louis symphony. i remember to this day how effortless he made it look, leading the audience to believe that anyone could do it -- a grand illusion indeed.

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Cliburn played with such poetry. That seems to be unmatched today. Always a huge inspiration.



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Originally Posted by iObsessed
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At the end of the day, I think he was one of the best American pianists in the 20th century, especially back in 1958, when he contributed to the gradual thawing of US-USSR relations. What do you guys think?


We could use more of that kind of thing these days.
What he did, according to the video that captured his performance at the Reagan White House, for example, was amazing.

Best wishes-


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I think he suffered more than a bit of burnout towards the end. Some people fault him for his narrow repertoire.


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Originally Posted by gynnis
I think he suffered more than a bit of burnout towards the end. Some people fault him for his narrow repertoire.


Well, burnout is just one thing - another is that he preferred having a good time socializing to working on music, and once he had enough money to not really need a full-blown music career, he more or less abandoned it in favor of parties and going to the opera. Can't blame him, really - being a touring concert pianist is a very weird and difficult life.

His penchant for socializing even took the form of throwing a big party for the competitors at the competition named after him. He apparently was addicted to hosting parties! smile

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Originally Posted by Mark_C
As I've said here a few times, I have about 20 recordings of Brahms 2nd Concerto, and Cliburn's, recorded in 1972, is my very favorite. To me, the warmth, love, and sheer beauty of his performance are unmatched.


His Brahms 1 is also magnificent, and the recording is paired with a sublime interpretation of the Handel Variations (Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24).


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Originally Posted by Hank Drake
The Brahms Handel Variations is one of my favorite versions.


Yes, it's perfect.


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Two Cliburn favorites of mine: the Chopin Barcarolle and Granados' "Quejas, o la Maya y el Ruisenor."





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Meeting him several years ago I was struck by three things: how polite and gracious he was, his HUGE hands, and how amazingly SOFT his hands were.

PS: The music was lovely, too! Altho, for the life of me, I have no remembrance of what it was. Bedazzled by his presence, I guess . . . smile

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Originally Posted by Eldridge
Two Cliburn favorites of mine: the Chopin Barcarolle and Granados' "Quejas, o la Maya y el Ruisenor."


I'm sorry to revive an old-ish thread, but Van Cliburn's recordings of two pieces are amazing and also my favorites. I don't see them (Van's recordings of these) mentioned often and I did a little dance when I saw your post! grin

Here they are on Youtube:





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When I was a student, Van Cliburn was my hero. I remember a photo of him riding an open car in a ticker tape parade down Broadway. I had never heard of a classical musician being so idolized. And of course that was also a by-product of his contribution to the detente between America and Russia ... at least on a cultural level. I tried to play the Tchaikovsky for years but my hands are abnormally small and I have a deformed little finger on the right hand. I also weighed a mere 114 pounds in those years and had to wrap my leg around one of the piano stool's and hurl myself at those keys. Determination ruled over ability. I could produce quite a formidable sound for my size.

Being tone deaf .... I also had great fun "playing along" with Van Cliburn on my old turn table. I was oblivious to the fact that the concert pitch on that vinyl in NO way matched the tuning on my piano. It must have been horrendous to everyone's ears but mine. I would turn it up full blast and play along ... immersed in my own heaven.

Decades later I heard him live here in Hawaii in an open air concert at the "Shell" ... a popular bandstand venue near Waikiki beach. It was a delightful evening ... informal and warm. A friend had treated me to the concert as a surprise and it was a magical evening. Cliburn fell immediately into the "mood" of the evening and joined in a little audience banter. The program was light ... and the popular and familiar classics were featured. I don't even remember what he played ... only that it was so very enjoyable. And perhaps that's the best outcome of a concert after all. I had spent so many of the intervening years, analyzing every note and comparing and critiquing. Now I sat back and enjoyed.

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