Rational, Romantic, Rigorous, Refined:
Dinu Lipatti Plays in Brussels
Paris, the city where he studied and held a great many concerts. Geneva and his position as virtuosity professor at the Conservatoire. Besancon, the place of his extraordinary last recital. We know how deeply France and Switzerland are permeated with the presence of Dinu Lipatti – all the more so as this pianist, whose early death was called "one of the profound artistic calamities of the 20th century” („Dinu Lipatti’s Talent Highlights New Piano Discs”) had among his friends or teachers such musicians as Alfred Cortot, Paul Dukas, Frank Martin, Arthur Honneger, Ernest Ansermet. By means of sharing with you several concert review excerpts, I would like to bring to your attention, in the next couple of pages, how Lipatti was perceived in yet another (partly) French-speaking European country which, in the years surrounding the Second World War, loved Lipatti: Belgium.
In the digital archives of the Royal Library of Belgium, a search by keyword "Lipatti” in the newspapers published on Belgian territory during 1938 and 1947 returned sufficient results so as to make it evident that for both Walloons and Flemings the Romanian pianist’s name was a familiar one. Readers learned that Lipatti was playing a concert in Italy; one could listen to him on the local radio, performing Chopin, Poulenc, Bach-Busoni or, together with Clara Haskil, his own Symphonie concertante; Belgium knew if Lipatti chanced to be a member of the jury in an international competition, and its inhabitants were also witnesses of the pianist’s activity as a composer: tenor Hugues Cuenod and pianist Madeleine Cantacuzino sang the first performance of Four melodies by Dinu Lipatti on poems by Rimbaud, Eluard and Paul Valéry, "simple, almost linear works”, nevertheless featuring "a bold harmonization”, and touched by "a breath of genius” (Verschraeghen, "Le recital Cuenod – Cantacuzène”).
In the course of two years, between January 1946 and December 1947, Lipatti played in Brussels eight times. His program of events listed two evenings with Orchestre National de Belgique under Ernest Ansermet, another four concerts (among which three for the young public, within the Jeunesses Musicales series) with the same orchestra led by Paul Sacher, and two recitals. Praise not only followed, but also preceded Lipatti’s highly advertised appearances, as proves La Meuse from October 26 and 28, 1946: "You will enjoy the exceptional gratification of being able to listen to this pianist about whom we have heard only the greatest things, to this virtuoso whom Cortot declared to be the new Horowitz” ("Dinu Lipatti”), or, "Without any doubt, those who will not come hear the remarkable Dinu Lipatti, this revelation of the piano, will regret it” ("Le récital Lipatti”).
The concert reviews I have selected for this paper begin with the one appearing in La Libre Belgique on the 8th of January 1946: "Dinu Lipatti, professor at the Virtuosity class in Geneva, amply demonstrated, by his interpretation of Chopin’s E minor piano concerto, his uttermost qualities: precision and clarity, graceful touch and purity of nuance, along with a complete mastering of the keyboard.” ("A la société philharmonique – MM. Ansermet et Lipatti”). La Dernière Heure’s comment on the same concert read on the 10thof January 1946: "Mr Dinu Lipatti, Romanian pianist of extraordinary talent, [gave] a performance [which] combined impeccable technique and refined sensitivity, leaving us wondering whether it was the charm of his talent which turned this work into such an attractive music, or whether it was the mediocrity of other pianists’ that made us ignore it for such a long time.” ("Ansermet – Lipatti”).
Dinu Lipatti’s very next recital was just as acclaimed as his triumph with Orchestre National de Belgique; on the 11th of January 1946, La Lanterne wrote: "This Romanian pianist confirmed... the excellent impression he had already made in Chopin’s concerto... We had the chance to study closely, and to enjoy even more, his traits – a balanced technique and a quite special disposition permanently, carefully, and rationally controlled. It is obvious that the emotion and the musicality he endowed the works of Bach, Schumann, Chopin or Debussy with are the fruit of a labour giving proof of an artistic conscience which deserves commendation. Dinu Lipatti masters equally well the Classical, Romantic, or Modern style, putting his whole soul in each and every work, and playing each and every one with an inexhaustible expressiveness. Let us add that his manner of playing unites a sober bearing, void of any unnecessary gesture, with a sensitivity from which all prudery and histrionics have been banned” (Michel, "Le recital de Dinu Lipatti”).
Towards the end of 1946, Dinu Lipatti returned to Brussels; La Cité Nouvelle remarked, on November 6: "This was an evening of high quality, impressing us deeply; it seemed the very soul of gentle [and] brilliant Mozart, whose works we heard, was there, inspiring the musicians an exceptional state of mind... In Piano Concerto no. 21, virtuoso Dinu Lipatti too left us with a profound impression, [through a performance rich in suggestions and ideas which gave the]music a particularly free flow.... Faithful to a tradition which seems to have been lost since so many performers forget that they must, first of all, be musicians, Lipatti wrote the [concerto’s] cadenzas himself, allowing us to appreciate his art as a composer... [which art was] constantly governed by a marked respect for the work he thus embellished” ("Paul Sacher et Dinu Lipatti”).
A year later, in December 1947, La Lanterne announced that Dinu Lipatti will present, in the "Great Stars” series hosted by the Palais des Beaux-Arts, an all-Chopin recital. The reviewer wrote on December 22: "Such a programme is quite likely to be fatal to the pianist who would content himself with only copying that which his colleagues have been doing for a hundred years now. But Chopin can also render evident the qualities of an artist, if the artist shows that he is able to transform so well-known a music into something appealing and new. Dinu Lipatti, master of undeniable agility, performer of elegant authority, musician whose intelligence impregnates everything he plays, brought Chopin’s personality before us in a tremendously evocative manner. Every polonaise, etude, waltz, or ballade is a minute image of the energy, tenderness, fantastic, pride, or dignity with which this composer’s whole body of work is infused; with his refined, full of poetry artistic vision which at no point became neither falsely nor excessively animated, Dinu Lipatti sends us right back to the most authentic Chopin” (Stehman, "Récital Dinu Lipatti”).
Le Soir observed on December 23, 1947: "Without any doubt, Dinu Lipatti is one of the greatest pianists of today. He doesn’t make ample gestures, he doesn’t exhibit an inspired look, he doesn’t throw us languorous glances nor shows off by hammering on the piano; on the contrary, we find in him no trace of those effects used for their known ability to impress whatsoever. Mr Lipatti is sobriety and simplicity itself – and he is, at the same time, a great artist. His sound is unimaginable: by what miracle does he draw out such resonances from his instrument? Unaffected, graceful, sweet, and homogenous, his playing is a true delight. Lipatti captivated us with the finesse of his touch and with his rich palette of subtle, ever varying and surprising tones” (Tinel, "Dinu Lipatti”).
On December 22, 1947, La Libre Belgique described our compatriot thus: "There is no doubt that Dinu Lipatti is one of the best pianists today. He has a perfect technique and, what is more, he can communicate in an astonishing chromatic range of sonorities. His playing is the result of the involvement of a superior intellect, which analyzes the music so as to bring out the themes and reveals, concurrently, the aural richness of the work as a whole. Dinu Lipatti shows an absolute respect for both the letter and the spirit of the score and does away with all day-dreaming-like improvisation –we must not mistake, though, this serious behaviour with a reserve void of feeling: but for his keen yet delicate musicality, such technical and artistic perfection would be indeed hard to explain” ("Récital de piano de M. Dinu Lipatti”).
By way of ending this paper, one final quote, to bring to our memory one of the works the pianist became a synonym of. In the review published by Le Soir on January 12, 1946, the author wrote: "Absolute triumph, and obtained by exclusively musical means; Mr Dinu Lipatti gave us the rare example of a pianist who will not abuse the advantages offered by his instrument and thus turn into a buffoon, but simply plays the works he has to play, and doesn’t subject them to that frequently disfiguring acoustic hypertrophy. What is more, his performance is that of a composer: one can strongly feel the presence of a thought which guides and develops the music, one can sense a superior level of emotion. For Lipatti, the piano is a docile servant and not a capricious, dominating tyrant. The indestructible architecture of Bach’s D major Toccata, the coloured romanticism of Schumann’s Symphonic etudes, the rapid, fluid rhythms of Chopin’s Barcarolle, the folk-like flavour of the same master’s Mazurka op. 50 no. 3, added to his ravishing B minor Scherzo, conquered us all. The three pieces by Debussy – "Hommage à Rameau”, "Reflets dans l’eau” and "L’isle joyeuse”, too, were given with perfect finesse. The true summit, though, was the first encore, the transcription of a chorale from Bach’s Cantata BWV 147, immediately asked for again by the public completely under the spell of this superhuman music by which, in life’s crepuscule, the Christian soul regains its peace, ready to begin its journey towards the Our Lord the Light” (Tinel, "Récital Dinu Lipati”).