> Myra Hess Vol 1 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Myra Hess. Live recordings from the University of Illinois - Volume 1
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Fantasie in F minor op. 49
Waltz No 1 in E flat op. 18
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Sonata No 21 in B flat D960
German Dances Ė selection
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Intermezzo in C Op.119/3
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)

Sonata in G, L387
Myra Hess, piano
Recorded University of Illinois, 17 and 18 March 1949
APR 5520 [69í39]


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Myra Hess hated recording. In that she was hardly unique but even amongst musicians of her generation the disparity between studio and live recordings is extreme. The first in a three CD conspectus of her live American recordings from the University of Illinois in 1949 is therefore a valuable opportunity to appreciate more fully the exploratory and frequently more galvanized responses of the pianist in the, to her, more human arena of a concert hall.

Hess recorded little Chopin commercially. By 1949 her discography boasted only the op.15/2 Nocturne, a recording dating from 1931 (itís on Pearl GEMM CD9462). The existence of the op.49 Fantasie and the op.18 Waltz is therefore doubly outstanding; all the more so as it reveals aspects of her playing either subsumed or only hinted at elsewhere. Her Chopin is unexpectedly fiery. The Fantasie is a tour de force of romantic expressivity with some truly thunderous playing aided by some pretty liberal pedalling; the effect is to my ears over intense and, whilst not out of control, at least unconstrained. But what canít be denied is the passionate conviction of it, its enveloping and declamatory fervour. If you think of Hess from her commercial discs as an adept and discreet performer, elfin and reserved, with patrician restraint, then start here and prepare to be disabused. The Schubert Sonata receives a good performance. It lacks precisely those qualities of insight and revelation that mark the greatest traversals but in its gemutlich way it is commendably well played, with convincing articulation, though never really probing much beneath the musicís surface.

The Dances are another matter. This thirteen-minute confection comprises German Dances, Waltzes and Ländler and is inimitably introduced by Hess herself. She plays them with such mastery of tone and timing, such thoughtful playfulness and with such evident enjoyment and energy that they are simply irresistible. The Brahms and Scarlatti were staples of her concert giving life and every bit as good as one would expect.

APRís production standards are exceptionally high. A delicious caricature of Hess on the cover is complemented in the booklet itself by a turn of the century portrait of the young pianist, demure, modest, head cast down in profile. Marshall Izen has penned the affectionate notes, which are common to all three volumes of the series. There are some problems with the sound Ė some wavery moments of flutter and some drop-outs Ė but nothing remotely off-putting, given the scarcity of the source material and the amount of work that has gone to presenting it to us now. A splendid start to a major series and unreservedly recommended.

Jonathan Woolf

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