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Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler (1863-1927)
Reproducing Piano Rolls 1908-24
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Scherzo op 31
Nocturne op 27 no 2
Nocturne op 48
Scherzo op 20
Waltz op 70 no 1
Waltz op 64 no 1
Piano Sonata op 35
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata op 111
Ruins of Athens March transcribed Anton Rubinstein
Moritz MOSKOWSKI

La Jongleuse
Frühling
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Pastorale transcribed Tausig
Capriccio transcribed Tausig
Howard BROCKWAY

Serenade
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)

Barcarolle op 30 no 1
Eduard SCHUTT (1856-1933)

Croquis et Silhouettes op 87 no 4
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Songs without words op 62 no 4
Cecile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)

La Retour op 134
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Rhapsody op 119 no 4
Eugen D’ALBERT (1864-1932)

Suite op 1, Gavotte and Musette
J S BACH (1685-1750)

Organ Toccata and Fugue transcribed Tausig
Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler, piano
Reproducing Piano Rolls, recorded 1908-24
PIERIAN 003-004 [2 CDs 132’16]

A fascinating release. Born Fannie Blumenfeld in Bielitz, Austrian Silesia, Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler emigrated to America with her family when a child. One of the foremost Leschetizky pupils she seems to have been averse to recording onto disc but, like so many of her contemporaries, not to making piano rolls, which she doubtless felt enshrined with more fidelity her performances. This double CD set comprises selections from her three sessions for one of the leading piano roll companies, Welte Mignon, and date from 1908 and 1912 (in Freiburg) and 1924 (in New York).

One of the most active and admired of American pianists she toured widely, premiered much and didn’t neglect contemporary compositions – including Macdowell, Chaminade, Amy Beach and Marie Prentner, amongst many. She took on the bravura repertoire such as Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein and Liszt 1 but seems not to have tackled Beethoven 1, 2 and 4, Chopin 1 or either Brahms. The recordings here were used making the paper Welte Mignon reproducing rolls on a restored 1923 Feurich Welte piano, in stereo, using two microphones. They are remarkably lifelike and impressive. The performances themselves are held to have reproduced the dynamic level of each note as the musician played it (other systems, such as the early Ampico and Duo Art couldn’t achieve this and the dynamic levels were added after the performance by engineers, often with the help of the pianist). Welte thus employed an edit-less system with the sole exception of wrong notes, which were always corrected. The veracity, correct transfer and fidelity of the reproducing piano roll is a complex subject in itself and has been for many years now but these sound, occasional piano tuning problems aside, exceptional.

It is of course exceptionally valuable to have major literature, such as the Beethoven op 111 and the Chopin Sonata, played by so distinguished a player. In general she emerges as a vibrant and often compelling musician though not one as necessarily combustible as history suggests. Famous for her fast tempi and occasional barnstorming there is certainly evidence in the op 31 Scherzo of Chopin for her swift speeds, crisp and energetic, and maybe bordering on the uncontrolled, certainly insofar as absolute clarity of articulation is concerned. Her Chopin Sonata is a comprehensively involving one – most impressive – and in Beethoven’s op 111, whilst she begins rather prosaically, she soon gains in amplitude and weight. The variations are played with remarkable rhythm.

Her Chopin op 70 Waltz is rather hobble toed and strutting – in general her Chopin is uneven – but Howard Brockway’s Serenade has an understated rhythmic charm as does Moskowski’s Frühling (she was a pliant and persuasive morceaux player). But I was disappointed by Brahms op 119 no 4 Rhapsody which is a very ponderous affair indeed – belying her reputation as a speed merchant; massive chording notwithstanding it’s very unsatisfactory playing. She played a lot of Bach and we have here the Organ Toccata and Fugue transcribed by Tausig as a solitary representative. The Fugue does sound rather retarded rhythmically - disjunctive, the fugal entries tend to fracture and fall apart. It made me wonder if the speed is right on the transfer.

The notes are comprehensive and attractively printed. Biographical details about Bloomfield Zeisler’s life and concerning the reproducing piano roll are invaluable and I’m indebted to them. As also the opportunity to listen to a sometimes uneven but always engaging musician, of splendid technique, high imagination and vibrant musicality.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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