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Hermann Scherchen – Westminster Archives: Volume 4
CD 1
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major, S.124, R.455, (1830-49, rev. 1853, 1856) [17:36]
Piano Concerto No.2 in A major, S.125 (1839-40, rev. 1849, 1861) [19:01]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Piano Concerto No.2 (1930-31) [31:33]
CD 2
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Piano Concerto No.3 (1945) [25:13]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 (1900-01) [37:02]
Edith Farnadi (piano)
Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera/Hermann Scherchen
rec. Vienna 1952-53
TAHRA WEST3007-08 [68:40 + 63:39]
Experience Classicsonline

From Tahra’s ever-industrious studios comes the latest entrant in its Westminster Archives series. It conjoins the series’s hero, Hermann Scherchen, with that admirable pianist Edith Farnadi.

The result is a quintet of concerto performances recorded in Vienna between 1952 and 1953. The two Liszt concertos are the openers and they prove her worth in this repertoire. Back in LP days HMV picked up on her Nixa recital of the Légendes as well as the Ballades in D flat major and B minor. and their perspicacity was warranted. She was assuredly a notable Liszt proponent and it’s good to see that these performances, as well as others including the Hungarian Rhapsodies, the Totentanz and Hungarian Fantasy are now available on the Naxos Classical Archives.  They were all made contemporaneously with these Vienna sessions – an especially high and visible point in her discography. 

The concertos display all the virtues of mettle and drama that one could have inferred from those other performances. There is considerable excitement and despite the period sound what emerges is a fine equipoise between dramatic self assertion and poetic lyricism. The Hungarian-born soloist understands the natural crests of the rhythmic profile and performs with panache and a certain coiled tensile quality throughout. 

She also plays two Bartók concertos. She’d studied with Arnold Székely who had studied alongside Bartók at the Budapest Academy so her lineage was taut.  Not only was she busy in the studios recording Liszt but at around the time of these Bartók sessions she set down Mikrokosmos on the WWN label as well as the Allegro barbaro, so it can be seen that was extensively admired in the repertoire. Of the two concerto performances the Third is, to me, the more successful. There is plenty of fine playing in the Second and the collaboration with Scherchen was auspicious. The orchestra comes under pressure from time to time but acquits itself well. What limits complete admiration is a feeling that things are held in reserve. The performance of the Third might surprise by virtue of an amount of metrical freedom allowed to the soloist but it works within the general structural and expressive parameters of the music. Farnadi proves a resilient and tonally flexible proponent and Scherchen, alert to the lexicon of contemporary writing, no less so. The uneasy sense of concertante reserve that haunts part of the Second does not emerge in this vigorously engaging recording of the Third. 

The Rachmaninoff performance was apparently not that well received at the time by critics. The piano is rather forward in an accepted manner and the strings don’t sing out in their opening paragraphs. The opening is reserved. But what you will hear, for this date, is a great deal of digital detail. There’s stoic nobility to the collaboration between Farnadi and Scherchen, an avoidance of obvious Romantic gestures and effusiveness that will intrigue. The string tone remains thin however, which is a pity. And it’s certainly not a performance for every day. 

These restorations are worthily returned to the catalogue. They document a valuable association between conductor and soloist in well managed transfers. 

Jonathan Woolf






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