Both performances compelled on the night and would have remained a treasured memory; better still to have recordings that preserve and share Aldo Ciccolini’s superb artistry, late in his life. Not that the sound is that great: the opening of K466 finds an unnaturally wide stereo spread, high and low strings too obviously compartmentalised, and the piano’s first entry (here loaded with emotion) is rather distant and ethereal, in a way that the Royal Festival Hall is not, and although the instrument has greater presence later, there are further instances of remoteness and imbalance; maybe rehearsal takes were slotted in, although my recall is that none would have been needed. The Rachmaninov sports another ‘version’ of the acoustic (producer and engineer are different), if getting nearer the truth, but neither quite equates to ‘being there’.
Ciccolini (1925-2015), the Naples-born French pianist, was in inimitable form on these two occasions, playing the music with personality and insight, a range of touch and dynamics, and a sovereign sense of phrase, and with nothing heaped upon the music that could be termed gratuitous, yet individuality is omnipresent – the art that conceals art. The Mozart, in which Ciccolini plays Beethoven’s cadenzas (no mention of this in the annotation), is fiery and lyrical, welled from within, and he is stylishly accompanied, not least by very personable woodwinds. And the LPO and Yannick Nézet-Séguin are sure-footed and sympathetic partners in the Rachmaninov, given without tricks yet new-minted, romantically glowing and tender, and with plenty of thrilling impulse when needed; music-making that draws you in – and back – for this is not a brief encounter.