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CD REVIEW

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The Grand Piano Era
Ignaz Friedman, Frederic Lamond, Harold Bauer, Nikolai Medtner, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Ferruccio Busoni, Percy Grainger, Josef Hofmann
Ignaz Friedman (1882 - 1948)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Réminiscences de Don Juan [13:07]
rec. April 1922 Roll No: 6523
Josef Hofmann (1876 - 1957)
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1809-1847)
Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2 [7:36]
rec. November 1922 Roll No: 6573
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Morceau Caractéristique, Op. 36, No.6, Etincelles [2:47]
rec. February 1923 Roll No: 6598
Frederic Lamond (1868 - 1948)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Grandes Études de Concert, No. 3, Un Sospiro [5:23]
rec. May 1924 Roll No: 6751
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860 - 1941)
Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860–1941)
Caprice, Op. 14, No. 3 [2:54]
rec. October 1922 Roll No: 6558
Feruccio Busoni (1866-1924 )
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750) - Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Chaconne in D minor, BWV 1004 (arr. for piano (1897) [15:18]
rec. November 1925 Roll No: 6928
Nikolai Medtner (1880 - 1951)
Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Forgotten Motives, Op. 38, No. 3, Danza Festiva [4:41]
rec. May 1926 Roll No: 6998
Ignaz Friedman (1882 - 1948)
Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1948)
Viennese Waltzes on Themes from Gàrtner, No.4 [4:10]
rec. November 1926 Roll No: 7076
Harold Bauer (1873-1951)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Toccata, Op. 7 [5.44]
rec. January 1922 Roll No: 6498
Percy Grainger (1882 - 1961)
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) - Percy GRAINGER (1882 - 1961)
Four Irish Dances, Op. 79, No. 1, Maguire's Kick [3:01]
rec. December 1916 Roll No: 5838
Josef Hofmann (1876 - 1957)
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1809-1847)
Scherzo, Op. 39 in C sharp minor [6:01]
rec. Unpublished Roll No: 8007
NIMBUS NI 8801 [70:45]

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The Polish Virtuoso
Josef Hofmann, Ignaz Friedman, Ignaz Jan Paderewski
Josef Hofmann (1876 - 1957)
Josef HOFMANN (1876-1957).
Impressions for Piano, No. 3, The Sanctuary [2.39]
rec. March 1922 Roll No: 6513
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Fantasia Suite, Op. 52, No. 4, La Jongleuse [1.56]
rec. April 1919 Roll No: 6598
Morceau Caractéristique, Op. 36, No. 6, Étincelles [2.45]
rec. February 1923 Roll No: 6598
Ignaz Friedman (1882 - 1948)
Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1948)
Viennese Waltzes on Themes from Gàrtner, No.1 [3.41]
rec. April 1921 Roll No: 6410
Estampes, Op. 22, No. 2 & No. 4 [5.35]
rec. January 1928 Roll No: 7188
Viennese Waltzes on Themes from Gàrtner, No. 2 [2.53]
rec. May 1921 Roll No: 6419
Ignaz Jan Paderewski (1860 - 1941)
Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860–1941)
Minuet, Op. 14, No.1 [4.14]
rec. April 1919 Roll No: 6100
Caprice, Op. 14, No. 3 (Genre Scarlatti) [2.52]
rec. October 1922 Roll No: 6558
Chants du Voyager, Op. 8, No. 3, Mélodie [3.06]
rec. November 1923 Roll No: 6681
Cracovienne Fantastique, Op. 14, No. 6 [3.50]
rec. March 1932 Roll No: 7446
Nocturne, Op. 16, No. 4 [4.54]
rec. November 1922 Roll No: 6562
Legende, Op. 16, No. 1 [5.10]
rec. December 1928 Roll No: 7285
Ignaz Friedman (1882 - 1948)
Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1948)
Viennese Waltzes on Themes from Gàrtner, No. 3 [4.19]
rec. March 1922 Roll No: 6515
Elle Danse, Op. 10, No. 5 [2.51]
rec. December 1922 Roll No: 6583
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Serenata, Op. 15, No.[2.24]
rec. July 1929 Roll No: 7340
Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1948)
Viennese Waltzes on Themes from Gàrtner, No. 4 [4.08]
rec. November 1926 Roll No: 7076
Josef Hofmann (1876 - 1957)
Josef HOFMANN (1876-1957).
Kaleidoscope, Op. 40, No. 4 [4.30]
rec. February 1925 Roll No: 6845
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Guitarra, Op. 45, No. 2 [3.12]
rec. April 1923 Roll No: 6615
Caprice Espagnol, Op. 37 [6.18]
rec. January 1926 Roll No: 6953
NIMBUS NI 8802 [71:19]

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Schumann - Harold Bauer, Percy Grainger
Harold Bauer

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 11 [30:48]
rec. April 1916 Roll No: 5749, 5750, 5769, 5787, 5800
Toccata, Op. 7 [5.44]
rec. January 1922 Roll No: 6498
Percy Grainger
Etudes Symphoniques, Op. 13 [16:51]
rec. March 1925 Roll No: 6859 - 6868
Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 [18:13]
rec. November 1929 Roll No: 7361 – 7363
NIMBUS NI 8804 [71:36]

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Ignaz Friedman plays Liszt and Chopin
Ignaz Friedman (1882 - 1948)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Don Juan Fantasia [13.07]
rec. April 1922 Roll No: 6523
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 14 [10.34]
rec. November 1924 Roll No: 6808
Grandes Etudes de Paganini, No. 3 [5.34]
rec. October 1923 Roll No: 6666
Tannhauser Overture Paraphrase [15.07]
rec. April 1923 Roll No: 6616
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1809-1847)
Nocturne, Op. 62, No. 1 [7.55]
rec. July 1921 Roll No: 6443
Polonaise, Op. 71, No. 2 [5.50]
rec. September 1921 Roll No: 6398
Nocturne, Op. 37, No. 1 [7.55]
rec. January 1926 Roll No: 6954
Valse, Op. 64, No. 1 'Minute' [1.46]
rec. February 1924 Roll No: 6722
Ballade No. 4, Op. 52 [10.58]
rec. October 1922 Roll No: 6556
NIMBUS NI 8805 [78:49]

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Brahms
Harold Bauer, Wilhelm Backhaus, Edwin Fischer, Carl Friedberg, Myra Hess, Arthur Rubinstein
Artur Rubinstein (1887 - 1982)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Rhapsody in B minor, Op. 79, No. 1 [8.51]
rec. April 1924 Roll No: 6744
Capriccio in B minor, Op. 76, No. 2 [3.28]
Rec. February 1923 Roll No: 6596
Harold Bauer (1873 - 1951)
Intermezzo in E flat major, Op. 117, No. 1 [5.42]
rec. October 1922 Roll No: 6559
Intermezzo in E minor Op. 119, No. 2 [4.45]
rec. December 1930 Roll No: 7422
Myra Hess (1890 - 1965)
Intermezzo in C major, Op. 119, No. 3 [1.47]
rec. September 1925 Roll No: 6911
Rhapsody in E flat major, Op. 119, No. 4 [5.45]
rec. January 1924 Roll No: 6705
Wilhelm Backhaus (1884 - 1969)
Variations on a Theme of Paganini Op. 35
Book 1: 1, 3, 7, 12, 13/ Book 2: 3-8, 10, 11, 14 [9.25]
rec. January 1924 Roll No: 6813
Carl Friedberg (1872 - 1955)
Ballade in B minor, Op. 10, No. 3 [4.32]
rec. April 1915 Roll No: 5641
Edwin Fischer (1886 - 1960)
Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5
rec. September 1923 Roll No: 6744 (067-071)
NIMBUS NI 8806 [74:51]

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Debussy - Eugen d'Albert, George Copeland, Percy Grainger, Myra Hess, Robert Lortat, Paquita Madriguera, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Artur Rubinstein, Elie Robert Schmitz
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Paquita Madriguera (1900 - )
Deux Arabesques No. 2 in G major [3.00]
rec. September 1916 Roll No: 5808
Arthur Rubinstein (1887 - 1982)
Danse [5.35]
rec. November 1920 Roll No: 6354
George Copeland (1882 - 1971)
Suite Berqamasque No. 3 -Clair de Lune [3.43]
rec. October 1915 Roll No: 5685
Suite Berqamasque No. 4 – Passepied [3.23]
rec. April 1919 Roll No: 6147
Percy Grainger (1882 - 1961)
Suite: Pour le Piano No. 3 – Toccata [3.58]
rec. April 1921 Roll No: 6409
Elie Robert Schmitz (1889 - 1949)
Prélude à 'L'après-midi d'un faune' [10.59]
rec. May 1922 Roll No: 6532
Arthur Rubinstein (1887 - 1982)
L'isle joyeuse [5.34]
rec. January 1925 Roll No: 6834
Elie Robert Schmitz (1889 - 1949)
Estampes No. 2 - La soirée dans Grenade [6.25]
rec. December 1919 Roll No: 6215
Robert Lortat (1885 - 1938)
Estampes No. 3 - Jardins sous la pluie [3.21]
rec. April 1919 Roll No: 6131
Ignaz Paderewski (1860 - 1941)
Images, Set 1, No. 1 - Reflets dans l'eau [4.58]
rec. December 1927 Roll No: 7186
Elie Robert Schmitz (1889 - 1949)
Preludes Book 1, No. 8 - La fille aux cheveux de lin [2.43]
rec. February 1920 Roll No: D-259
George Copeland (1882 - 1971)
Preludes Book 1, No. 12 – Minstrels [2.08]
rec. August 1915 Roll No: 5669
Myra Hess (1890 - 1965)
Preludes Book 1, No. 10 - La Cathédrale engloutie [7.32]
rec. November 1925 Roll No: 6927
Arthur Rubinstein (1887 - 1982)
La plus que lente [4.07]
rec. October 1919 Roll No: 6182
Eugen d'Albert (1864 - 1932)
Preludes Book 2, No. 6 - "Général Lavine" – excentric [2.43]
rec. April 1931 Roll No: 0345
NIMBUS NI 8807 [67:22]

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Percy Grainger plays Grainger
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Percy Grainger (1882 - 1961)
Shepherd's Hey [2.09]
rec. June 1915 Roll No: 5661
Country Gardens [2.56]
rec. May 1919 Roll No: 6149
Sussex Mummers' Christmas Carol [4.16]
rec. December 1915 Roll No: 5712
Jutish Medley [7.17]
rec. November 1928 Roll No: 7274
Molly on the Shore [3.17]
rec. May 1920 Roll No: 6284
One More Day My John - complex version [1.54]
rec. June 1918 Roll No: 6030
Spoon River [2.07]
rec. April 1923 6617
The Warriors - Music to an imaginary ballet [3.40]
rec. Privately in 1927 Roll No: n/a
Ramble on the last love-duet in Der Rosenkavalier Strauss, arr. Grainger [6.30]
rec. March 1929 Roll No: 7300
March-Jig (Maguire's Kick) [2.55]
rec. December 1916 Roll No: 5838
The Leprechaun's Dance [3.03]
rec. November 1922 Roll No: 6572
A Reel [4.25]
rec. April 1919 Roll No: 6117
Sheep and Goat Walkin' to the Pasture (arr. Guion) [3.16]
rec. December 1926 Roll No: 7083
Turkey in the Straw (arr. Guion) [2.44]
rec. June 1921 Roll No: 6444
Gay but Wistful [2.30]
rec. November 1918 Roll No: 6072
"The Gum-suckers" March (duet with Lotta Mills Hough) [3.23]
rec. October 1918 Roll No: 6059
Zanzibar Boat-Song [3.40]
rec. December 1924 Roll No: 6824
Colonial Song [6.38]
rec. July 1915 Roll No: 5666
Walking Tune [3.44]
rec. March 1916 Roll No: 5735
Children's March: "Over the Hills and Far Away" (duet with Lotta Mills Hough) [6.00]
rec. December 1920 Roll No: 6368
NIMBUS NI 8809 [76:24]

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Ferruccio Busoni plays Liszt, Bach, Busoni & Chopin
Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Grandes Etudes de Paganini - No. 5, La Chasse [3.23]
rec. July 1915 Roll No: 5671
Etudes d'exécution transcendante - No. 5, Feux Follets [4.07]
rec. October 1915 Roll No: 5686
Polonaise No. 2 in E major [9.34]
rec. September 1915 Roll No: 5675
Grandes Etudes de Paganini - No. 3, La Campanella [5.11]
rec. November 1915 Roll No: 5698
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750) - Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Chaconne in D minor, BWV 1004 (arr. for piano (1897) [15:18]
rec. November 1925 Roll No: 6928
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1809-1847)
Preludes, Op. 28
rec. by September 1923 Roll No: 037
No. 23 in F major [1:09]
rec. by March 1927 Roll No: 0249
NIMBUS NI 8810 [63:33]

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Alfred Cortot plays Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, Skriabin Saint-Saëns & Chabrier
Liszt
Alfred Cortot
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C sharp minor [9.40]
rec. May 1927 Roll No: 3099
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1809-1847)
Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise in E flat major, Op. 22 [13.03]
rec. November 1920 Roll No: 6365
Impromptu in G flat major, Op. 51, No. 3 [4.34]
rec. May 1929 Roll No: 7327
Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 55, No. 2 [4.04]
rec. May 1930 Roll No: 7397
Étude in D flat major, Op. 25, No. 8 [1.07]
rec. April 1924 Roll No: 6740
Étude in G flat major, Op. 25, No. 9, Butterfly [0.56]
rec. January 1923 Roll No: 6593
Étude in G flat major, Op. 10, No. 5, Black Key [1.38]
rec. January 1923 Roll No: 6593
Étude in A minor, Op. 25, No. 11, Winter Wind [3.49]
rec. March 1923 Roll No: 6606
Étude in C minor, Op. 25, No. 12 [2.40]
rec. January 1927 Roll No: 7088
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Au bord d'une source, No.4 from Années de pèlerinage, première année, Suisse [3.21]
rec. October 1923 Roll No: 6664
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11 in A minor [5.24]
rec. April 1919 Roll No: 6135
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109 [13:40]
rec. March 1927 Roll No: 7109, 7110
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Étude en forme de valse, Op. 52, No. 6 [5.27]
rec. December 1920 Roll No: 6372
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Idylle, No.6 from Pièces Pittoresques [3.20]
rec. September 1925 Roll No: 6910
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Étude in D sharp minor, Op. 8, No. 12, Patetico [2.23]
rec. May 1923 Roll No: 6623
NIMBUS NI 8814 [75:08]
Experience Classicsonline

 

I’ve reviewed quite a swathe of reproducing piano transfers in the last few years. Pierian, Tudor, Naxos and Dal Segno are some of the companies that have been issuing a tranche of Welte-Mignon and Duo Art recordings. Nimbus’s extensive series is devoted to performances made for the Aeolian Duo-Art company. With due acknowledgement to Nimbus I think it might be pertinent to note here the thing that makes their transfers distinctive. Readers will know the vagaries inherent in the system and a cursory check of my numerous reviews will point to the many defects and limitations in some of the transfers of late. So now a few words about the ‘Robot’ from Nimbus …

What makes Nimbus' Grand Piano series unique stems from the technical ability of the 'Robot' accurately to reproduce the nuances of the original performances, at concert levels. Duo-Art rolls feature a special set of perforations along both edges of the roll which can control up to 16 different intensities of hammer stroke. This, alongside the ability to vary the volume and intensity of the melody independently of the accompaniment and also independently of the sustaining and soft pedals, creates a series of tonal intensities and gradations beyond the capacity of the human ear to distinguish. Put simply this system does not sound like a machine playing a piano - it sounds like a live pianist. Not only that but because it is so accurate we can distinguish one pianist from another. Consequently this series enables us to hear a style of pianism which is long dead but which has its roots in the great composer-performers of the Romantic era. So, for example we are able to hear a recording of one of Liszt's Grand Etudes de Concert from a roll made in 1924 by Frederic Lamond who at the age of seventeen was taken to study with Liszt in Weimar.

All the recordings in the Grand Piano series have been made at the Concert Hall of the Nimbus Foundation using a Steinway Grand. All recordings are fully digital. There are no extraneous noises no mechanisms whirring, no levers squeaking, just pure, amazing piano playing.

I can attest to the excellent quality of the transfers, to the lack of action noise, and to the fine room ambience. These are really fine sounding recordings. To what extent they accurately reflect the performances is an age-old conundrum that is usually answered in the negative. Some pianists were punctilious about their reproducing rolls, superintending the post-performance editing work – Harold Bauer I believe was one such – and others, such as Grainger, were sloppy, dashed off the roll and left.

What is always of value is, wherever possible, to compare and contrast performances from around the same time made on acoustic (or electric) discs and those for roll companies.  Cortot’s roll of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody was released in April 1919. He made an early electric recording of the same piece in 1926 in Camden, NJ – currently on Naxos - which is almost the same in terms of timing but very different as a performance. The disc has a sense of anticipation and tension devoid in the roll; dynamics are more sculpted on disc, pedalling is more authentic, and the range of colours more palpable. The roll is very much at one dynamic level, despite the boasts of natural dynamics whereas the tonal gradations are more scaled on disc.

Busoni is a famous case in point. This roll transfer of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne lasts 15:17 whereas others I’ve heard – less impressive transfers – have it at around 13:20. The disparity in transfer speed is another endemic problem. The A major Chopin Prelude [No.7] was released in roll form by September 1923 so it was probably recorded not so long after Busoni went into the studios to record it on disc, which he did in 1922 in London. The roll is more emphatic, less subtle, starker and frankly duller. The ebullient, slapdash, brilliant Grainger sounds inert in his roll of the ravishing Sussex Mummers' Christmas Carol. He made both a roll and disc recording of Stanford’s March-Jig (Maguire’s Kick), his arrangement of Stanford’s Four Irish Dances. Check out HMV 5569, recorded in 1908 and contrast it with this roll made by the end of 1916. You will immediately hear that despite the primitive 1908 sound Grainger infuses the piece with a wealth of rhythmically charged drama and dynamic variance. It’s exciting and powerful and exerts a tremendous charge. The roll is arthritic, devoid of dynamics and dull.

The appreciation that rolls are at best a simulacrum of performances can be appreciated in all these performances, valuable and fascinating though they are in their own terms. There are simply too many variables, too many intercessionary components between the original performance and its roll realisation. Try Backhaus’s recording of the Brahms Variations on a Theme of Paganini. He was clearly immersed in it in the mid twenties because first he recorded it on roll, probably towards the end of 1923 and then two years later made a disc recording for HMV. Once again the lack of verve on the roll is plain to hear. The subtlety of dynamics and pedalling especially in repeated passages on disc is not replicated on the roll.

These are constant refrains of course though the prospect of encountering rolls made by Madriguera and Schmitz (Debussy) shouldn’t be discounted. The Debussy disc in fact turns up one of his most august interpreters, George Copeland. His Clair de lune roll and disc bear little comparison, the latter having much more metrical freedom and rubati, colour and fancy. Similarly Paderewski’s 1926 Victor of Reflets dans leau is exactly the same tempo as, but utterly different from, the less plastic and natural c.1927 roll.  Friedman’s performance of the Gärtner Waltz No.1 – in the Polish Virtuoso disc – shows how the natural flow and flexibility of a disc recording (made in 1925) can become stodgy and rhythmically hobbled when incarnated in roll form. The roll was made a few years earlier. Where things are even more pronounced is in the case of Friedman’s Minute Waltz where the rubati on the roll are mannered and implausible. The roll was set down by early 1924; his disc in 1922. Don’t judge Friedman by his rolls! And especially not the lifeless Polonaise Op.71 No.2 where there’s little if any shape, feeling or contour to the music making. Go to the 1929 disc on Naxos to be revivified.

In one of the most all-embracing of the discs, simply entitled, The Grand Piano Era, we have the same Busoni-Bach Chaconne as on the Busoni disc. We also have some of Lamond’s rolls. His roll of Un Sospiro is much more lateral than his numerous disc recordings of it which were made between 1921 and ’36. Medtner is an intriguing case as he recorded Danza Festiva for roll by May 1926 and later recorded it on disc in 1931. The tempo is identical but it’s what happens within those parameters that distinguished the disc – tremendous flexibility and colouristic complexity.

These disc are have splendid notes and photographic reproductions with full recording details. The standards are maintained throughout, meaning that this series is now one of the very best on the market. Specialists will know to be sceptical of the results but one can hardly complain or cavil at Nimbus’s excellent work.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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