Bruce Hungerford On East German Television

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 7

The death of Bruce Hungerford in a January 1977 car crash robbed the music world of a supremely cultivated pianist and interpreter, whose small yet substantial recorded legacy I have covered in detail on and elsewhere. KASP Records has fleshed out Hungerford’s discography with several recordings stemming from live recitals, and now issues what purports to be the only known concert video documentation of Hungerford. This DVD preserves a live East German televised concert that took place at the Berliner Rundfunk on January 12, 1964, with Boris Khaikin conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin, and Hungerford as soloist in Beethoven’s Fourth piano concerto. The sound quality is surprisingly good for its vintage, notwithstanding a 10-second dropout early in the first movement. While the camera work is not sophisticated by modern-day standards, pianophiles have ample opportunity to observe Hungerford’s body language up close.

The pianist’s utmost concentration and physical economy are consistently apparent, as he executes Beethoven’s rippling scales and double note patterns with seemingly no effort. At the same time, Hungerford displays a sophisticated finger legato technique in the slow movement, with little aid from the sustain pedal. He favors unusually brisk tempos in the outer movements that, however, never sound glib or rushed, with plenty of room for subtle inflection. The orchestra also operates on a high level under Khaikin’s leadership, notably in the Rondo finale’s rapid soloist/ensemble exchanges. Khaikin’s account of the Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov Night on Bald Mountain proves equally revelatory. The conductor revels in the music’s wide dynamic and mood contrasts, yet metes them out with impressive rhythmic discipline and unanimity of phrasing, particularly in the soaring string passages and the full-bodied brass work.

Indeed, most Western music lovers had little idea of this particular orchestra’s prowess in the early 1960s. In light of today’s “everybody gets a standing ovation” concert demeanor, it’s interesting to witness the East Berlin audience’s polite and respectful applause. Hungerford’s admirers need no prodding to acquire this DVD, but don’t underestimate the conductor and orchestra!

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4: Moravec/Turnowsky (VAI)

  • Bruce Hungerford (piano)
  • Staatskapelle Berlin, Boris Khaikin

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