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Masters of the Piano Roll: Fauré plays Fauré – Strauss plays Strauss
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Mood Pictures Op.9 No.1 - On the Silent Forest Path [3.14]
Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome [7.04]
Salome – two fragments [2.41]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)

Aragonaise [2.57]
In Cuban Style [3.40]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Pavane Op.50 [4.21]
Raoul LAPARRA (1876-1943)

Spanish Rhythms No.2 – Tientos [1.25]
Spanish Rhythms No.4 – Calesera [1.45]
Spanish Rhythms No.6 – Solea [1.11]
Spanish Rhythms No.7 – Paseo [1.57]
Poursuite- Souvenirs of Youth [1.12]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)

Two Musical Relics of My Mother [2.42]
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)

Lotus Land Op.47/1 [3.06]
Chinese Caprice [3.11]
Black Dance Op.55 No.5 [1.58]
Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)

Folk Tune Op.39/1 [2.24]
Alfred GRUNFELD (1852-1924)

Romance Op.15 [5.42]
Carlos SALZEDO (1885-1961)

Reverie Op.18 [2.39]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)

Saudades do Brazil [3.18]

Barcorala (Capri) [2.41]
Alfred CASELLA (1883-1947)

Inezie [3.37]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)

Ragamuffin – London Pieces No.2 [3.23]
Amberley Wild Brooks [3.12]
Max REGER (1873-1916)

Intermezzo in G minor Op.45 No.5 [3.15]
Rolls recorded 1905-27 and in all cases played by the composers, with the exception of the Grainger, which is played by the composer and Rose Grainger as a duet. recorded in 1918
DAL SEGNO DSPRCD 010 [72.58]
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Dal Segno’s trawl through the nether land of the piano roll world continues apace and no sooner have I reviewed a brace of discs devoted to women pianists than this latest entrant arrives. The title is a little bit of a swizz. If you were expecting a full complement of the Fauré rolls you will be disappointed because his name, though emblazoned on the cover next to Strauss’s alone, yields only one roll, that of the Pavane. As for Strauss, Tacet has just released the entirety of his 1906 Welte rolls (reviewed on this site) and Dal Segno give us just three. Which is not to say that Tacet makes the better bet, as I shall discuss below.

The rolls are all performed by the composer-pianists and were made for the leading roll companies of the day, Ampico, Duo-Art and Welte-Mignon. Naturally they left behind fulsome encomiums, since they had a vested interest in the rewards such as might accrue. Let’s cut to the chase and investigate the rival claims of Tacet and Dal Segno with regard to the Strauss items. One notable feature of roll reproduction can be the wildly different reproduction speeds. While a 1906 G&T disc transfer may err slightly one way or the other, the mechanical and robotic nature of the roll produces discrepancies that could never happen with a lateral disc. Take Strauss’s On the Silent Forest Path from his Mood Pictures. This takes 4.01 in the Tacet transfer and 3.14 with Del Sagno; the Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome takes 8.54 with Tacet and 7.04 with Dal Segno. And finally the two fragments from Salome take 3.37 in the Tacet, 2.41 with Dal Segno. As Tennyson put it, Some one had blundered. I’ve noted these absurdities repeatedly with regard to Roll transfers. For what it’s worth I am far more inclined to believe Dal Segno’s work than Tacet’s, which sounds more than usually ridiculous in terms of rhythmic jerkiness.

Other rolls in this collection may have been compiled on LP but the majority will doubtless be new to most people as indeed the majority were new to me. The Fauré roll most commonly reissued over the years is the First Barcarolle so it makes a pleasant surprise to find the Pavane but though it’s popular it’s hardly pianistically distinctive. The roll call of composers is an impressive one, generally second tier it’s true – which is why the senior figures of Strauss and Fauré are employed to entice one – though to many that will actually prove an advantage given the Strauss rolls are well known.

Laparra has a number of his Iberian genre pieces here and they’re enjoyable enough; Grainger joins with his mother, Rose, for his sole contribution, a rudely vigorous one that not even the technology can quite diminish. Cyril Scott and John Ireland both made solo recordings with which these rolls can be profitably contrasted but I wasn’t aware that Goossens was much of a pianist – he was a highly proficient violinist and spent some years in the Philharmonic Quartet. Regarding Ireland his two pieces are wrongly tracked. Track 23 is track 22. His 1920 roll of Amberley Wild Brooks (spelt wrongly here as well) can be contrasted with a much later 1948 BBC broadcast that has survived. Imperfect though that is it puts to shame the crude simulacrum that is the inflexionless lump of a roll. There are other single items by such as Milhaud, Reger and Casella. And whilst much of this must be taken on trust it’s always instructive to have at least some trace material of a composer’s musicianship, however imperfect and compromised by the technology.

These rolls were transferred a while ago now, in 1992. There’s some ambient noise and a slightly noisy piano action and also what sounds like a degree of tape hiss. Given the caveats this has been reasonably well done but the various company information should be attached to the track details so we can be sure which system of roll we’re listening to; individual roll numbers for the discographers and pedants among us. And proof-reading needs to be stepped up.

Jonathan Woolf




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