> The Piano G & Ts [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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The Piano G & Ts. Recordings from the Gramophone and Typewriter era (1900-1907); Alfred Grünfeld, Raoul Pugno and Natalia Janotha
Alfred GRÜNFELD (1852-1924)
Serenade Op 32
Etude a la tarantella Op 47/3
Mazurka à la Viennoise Op 51
Ungarische Fantasie Op 55
Valse mignonne Op 51/4
Romance Op 42
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die Forelle
Johann STRAUSS (1825-1899)
Frühlingsstimmenwalzer arr Grünfeld
Georg Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Suite No 4 – Gavotte and Variations
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Sonata in a L495
Raoul PUGNO (1852-1914)
Impromptu valse
Valse lente
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Waltz in A Flat Op 34/1
Nocturne in F Sharp Op 15/2
Impromptu in A Flat Op 29
Berceuse in D Flat Op 57
Sonata in B Flat Minor Op 35 – March funèbre
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Songs without words Op 67/4
Scherzo in E Minor Op 16/2
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Valse folle
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Fugue in A Minor
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Songs without words Op 67/4
Natalia JANOTHA (1856-1932)
Polish carillon (extract)
Gavotte impériale
Alfred Grünfeld, piano (all items from Grünfeld to Strauss)
Raoul Pugno, piano (all items from Handel to Mendelssohn’s Scherzo)
Natalia Janotha, piano (last four items)
Recorded Vienna, Paris and London 1903-1905
APR 5532


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For some time now APR has been releasing a series of discs under the title The Piano G&Ts. Many of the Gramophone and Typewriter piano recordings of the years 1900-07 are of considerable – and in some cases exceptional – rarity and to have them transferred in this way is fundamentally important. This disc, volume 2 in a series which has now reached three volumes, is devoted to three pianists born in the 1850s – the perplexing Grünfeld, the remarkable Pugno and the astounding, in all senses, Janotha.

Alfred Grünfeld (1852-1924), Prague born, studied with Smetana there and with Kullak in Berlin and was one of the first pianists to record. 125 titles were made between 1899 and 1914 and though he has always had a reputation as a salon stylist - in The Great Pianists the lordly Harold Schonberg tags him a “super-cocktail pianist” whilst noting that at least a few of his discs had merit – his records did include Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Dvořák, Grieg and Schumann. Here APR collects all his 1905 recordings and they make for intriguing listening. Whilst it’s true that the bulk are his own compositions and light Grünfeld is still capable of some remarkable feats. In his own Serenade his right hand touch is super fine and the following Etude – in fantastically good sound by the way, as are most of these 1905 discs – discloses real rhythmic brio and subtle interplay between left and right hand. In Chopin’s Mazurka it’s probably necessary to allow his metrical displacements the latitude that an individualist such as Grünfeld deserves. I suspect that some listeners will find them unnatural but this is a de Pachmann style of playing and deserves to be taken seriously despite the Court and Salon tags that still hang to Grünfeld’s name.

In the Schubert-Fischoff however there’s little gainsaying the range of dynamics, the power of his left hand, precise chording and the effective carry and clarity of the right hand. There are a few scuffs on Grünfeld’s Mazurka but also some ineffable charm in this delicious confection. And in his Ungarische Fantasie there’s more than a nod toward Grünfeld’s friend, Brahms, complete with swagger and swing. The Schubert is ammunition, I suppose, for those who denigrate Grünfeld as shallow and superficial. Wohin and Die Forelle are run together in a typically frivolous conjunction but there’s still a deal to admire even amongst the Viennese frippery. In any case his Romance, from a session in late 1905, is really persuasive and lyrical playing; we should have heard more of his Schumann on disc, if this is anything to go by. If you are worried by 1905 recordings don’t be. These were well-engineered discs and have been splendidly dealt with by Bryan Crimp; the ear will adjust very quickly.

Pugno’s thirteen discs come from Parisian sessions in April and November 1903. Multifaceted and multi-talented Pugno was variously pianist, organist, accompanist and composer but didn’t specialize as a pianist until he was forty. The turntable used for the sessions was unstable – uneven rotation - and so a certain amount of sympathetic listening is required when it comes to a number of these discs. Persist however beyond the initially disconcerting flutter and wow and you will be rewarded with some remarkable pianism from the sonata partner of Ysaye and the man who encouraged Grieg to record. His tempo in the Chopin Waltz Op 34/1 is conventional, the playing excellent but it is his famous recording of the F Sharp Nocturne that will pull you up short. He claimed the excessively slow tempo was from Georges Mathias, his piano teacher and one of Chopin’s best students. Luckily the November 1903 discs are better in quality of recording though there are still problems and of course recording was still very much in its infancy. Exceptional grace animates the Mendelssohn Song without words and Massenet’s Valse folle is driven through with passion, the ritardandos stylish and playful. Incision, clarity of fingerwork and superb touch distinguish the Chabrier and superb voicings do likewise with the Chopin A Flat Impromptu (though be warned that this is another off-centre recording). His delicacy and sensitivity to dynamics are clear in the D Flat Berceuse and in fact everywhere the superiority of his imagination and pianism is evident.

Finally four pieces – one only a minute’s excerpt – by Natalia Janotha, 1856-1932. Born in Warsaw Janotha studied with Clara Schumann. Eccentric and wilful for some time she would only consent to giving recitals if her cat was on stage with her. Though she recorded at two sessions in London, in 1904 and 1906, both times with the Gaisberg brothers as engineers, only four sides were published and are very rare – so rare that APR could only locate a broken copy of Janotha’s Polish Carillon and thus can give us only 0.52 of it. The Chopin Fugue of which he had acquired the manuscript is the highlight whereas she gallops through the Mendelssohn, has a feathery touch and charming trill in the carillon extract and saves the hilariously ridiculous Gavotte impériale for last.

Trilingual notes – English, German, French – and full recording details are provided. APR are probably leaders in the field of providing discographic information and provide helpful, succinct biographical details as well. The recording quality is excellent, the intractable problems of the Pugno sessions being acknowledged, and this major series goes from strength to strength.

Jonathan Woolf

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