Nella Maissa is an Italian pianist, born in Turin in 1914, but who has spent most of her life in Portugal, and has had made an important contribution to musical life there, performing and recording the music of contemporary Portuguese composers. This CD is thus something of a homage to her, being a remastering of a radio broadcast made in 1958. This explains both the announcement of each individual piece, and the occasional lapses in the performance - more smudged notes and errors than you would expect in a modern studio performance. These are mostly unimportant, though the false start to the 8th Fugue is disconcerting, and could surely have been edited out for this transfer.
Other than this, Maiss's playing is excellent. Though not 'virtuoso' music, these pieces are technically very demanding, and she is mostly well up to the task. The recorded sound is acceptable (given its age) though rather cramped, and the tuning of the piano is far from perfect, particularly in the higher register. Interesting how the booklet and cover give extensive details about the recording, but it hasn't been thought necessary to mention the type of instrument - i.e. manufacturer etc. - of the piano being used. This seems distinctly odd to me with this information being surely of even greater significance than, say, the location or date of the recording. Careless omissions of this kind are by no means confined to this label.
The title of Hindemith's fascinating set of pieces means, roughly,
'Game of the Notes', and he has sub-titled it Studies in Counterpoint,
Tonal Organisation and Piano Playing. He remains a stubbornly unfashionable
figure today, but I'm convinced his time will come, as he is undoubtedly
one of the great stylists of the 20th century; every note
of this piece has 'Hindemith' stamped all over it. The work was composed
in 1942, soon after he arrived in the USA, having fled the anti-Semitism
of the Hitler régime, though he had bravely held out longer than
many. Yes, there is a certain austerity to the style here, but there
is also an enormous variety of texture and character, as well as awesome
technical resource in the creative process. The 25 pieces begin with
a Praeludium, end with a Postludium, and in between are
12 Interludes and Fugues - an interesting variant on Bach's procedure
in the '48'. They represent a major contribution to the 20th century
piano repertoire, and stand alongside such masterpieces as the Shostakovich
Preludes and Fugues and the more advanced books of Bartók's Mikrokosmos.
As there would seem to be only one other recording at present available,
this is an important and valuable issue, despite its shortcomings.
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