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Welte-Mignon Piano Rolls Volume 3
Piano Rolls 1905-26 recorded on a restored Steinway-Welte
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Valse noble
Played by Artur Schnabel
Niccolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

La Campanella arr. Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Played by Ferruccio Busoni
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)

German Waltz
Played by Josef Hofmann
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

Lucia di Lammermoor (arr Smith)
Played by Carl Schmidt
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Rhapsody No.2
Played by Olga Samaroff
Xaver SCHARWENKA (1850-1924)

Polish Dance Op.3 No.1
Played by Xaver Scharwenka
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Mignonís Song
Played by Rudolph Ganz

Elfenspiel Etude in E major
Played by Yolanda Mero
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Waltz Op.70 No.1
Scherzo in B minor Op.20 No.1
Played by Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Kinderszenen Op.15 Nos 1-6
Played by Fanny Davies
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Valse Triste
Played by W. Krowsky
Max REGER (1873-1916)

Sonatine Ė Second movement; Minuet
Played by Wera Schapira
Made on Welte-Mignon Piano Rolls 1905-26. Recorded on a restored Steinway-Welte Reproducing Piano in August 2000
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110679 [67.07]

I seem to be turning into a politician with this series, constantly referring interested parties to the review I wrote some weeks or months ago. Then I wrote about some of the more contentious aspects of the recording and reproducing of rolls and this latest release, the third, serves only to reinforce those views. Take Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler, a famous American pianist who left no disc recordings, and the two examples of her playing here. The double CD set I reviewed on this site of her piano rolls (on Pierian) contains the same Chopin recordings as here. The pitch remains unaltered but the timings differ Ė in the case of the Waltz by only (though thatís a relative term) 13 seconds but in the B minor Scherzo the difference is a full three quarters of a minute Ė in a piece not nine minutes in length. So to add to the mechanical and post-editing secrets and complexities of the system we have to contend, as we always knew, with differing methods of reproduction on restored pianos. Is the difference due to roll shrinkage or to reproduction speed or to any other of the ancillary problems inherent in the system?

Itís best to attack that problem musically. The chaotic introduction of the Scherzo on Naxos is not, I think, the real Bloomfield Zeisler. I canít believe that this lauded musician could produce such a mess. The Pierian transfer is different; itís more lithe, quicker, the passagework more lucid, the phrasing rather more natural. Of course that companyís transfers are also not ideal; thereís a slightly out of tune piano on some of the tracks whereas Naxosís restored Steinway-Welte certainly sounds splendidly forward, as does its very noisy action. But as for the transfers I know on whom Iíd place my money.

The performers are the usual mix of patrician lions and relative unknowns. I would prefer Busoniís few Columbia discs, however imperfectly recorded and however much he despised the whole process, to his piano rolls. And the same goes for Olga Samaroff, whose Brahms is indifferent on rolls (not helped by the systemís dynamic constrictions). Yolanda Mero, one of the less well-known pianists here, is fluent and fleet in Heymann and another leading woman pianist of the time, the Clara Schumann student Fanny Davies appears in the first six scenes from Kinderszenen. This roll was made in 1909 and we have her Columbia discs of the same work, which she made twenty years later (on Pearl). I think even a cursory listen will reveal that, however attractive it may be to hear her roll, the disc recording preserves the authentic voicings and sense of colour and fantasy that the roll fails to convey. It may be that the time constraints of the 78 made her hurry a little (the disc performance is faster) Ė and this is one of the advantages of the roll in its ability to capture a lengthier uninterrupted span Ė but there is little similarity tonally between the two performances. The tonal homogeneity of the rolls is, in any case, a wearying feature of the system.

My advice is very much as it was in my reviews of the first two volumes; caution as to the authenticity of the rolls as accurate artefacts but an informed welcome to the series, given the reservations noted above.

Jonathan Woolf

Other Volumes

Volume 1 Jonathan Woolf    Donald Satz

Volume 2 Jonathan Woolf    Donald Satz

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