Music Review: Legendary Van Cliburn



Complete Album Collection (Sony Classical 88765407232 (28 CDs + DVD))

Rating: 5/5

Exactly one year ago, the American pianist Van Cliburn (1934-2013) died from metastatic bone cancer. He shot to fame by winning first prize at the inaugural Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1958 and his meteoric concert career lasted about 20 years before a self-imposed retirement.

This handsome box-set encompasses his complete recordings on the RCA Victor label and a documentary DVD. He had a smallish repertoire of mostly Romantic works but nothing was less than whole-hearted and conceived on a grand scale.

The justly celebrated concertos by Tchaikovsky (No. 1), Rachmaninov (No. 2 and 3) and Prokofiev (No. 3) give an insight to his lush, all-embracing sound and outsized technique. Also not to be ignored was his magisterial sweep in Edward MacDowell's underrated Second Piano Concerto. Of the larger solo works, sonatas by Liszt, Chopin, Rachmaninov (No. 2), Prokofiev (No. 6) and Barber exhibit the passion and largesse that made him a hero.

Given his celebrity status and popular appeal, the record label offered him the luxury of issuing albums titled My Favourite Encores, Chopin's Greatest Hits, The World's Favourite Piano Music and the like, in which his mastery of smaller works is particularly delectable. Here was one pianist in a million, one who will be sorely missed.

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