Lamond was one of Liszt’s last pupils. The Class of
1885 in which he, a seventeen year old, found himself included old hands
such as Arthur Friedheim, Alexander Siloti and Moriz Rosenthal as well
as newer initiates such as Conrad Ansorge, Bernhard Stavenhagen and
José Vianna da Motta. Lamond studied with Liszt for one year
and the venerable man attended one of his final concerts in Britain
when he came to see his young pupil perform in London.
His career was centred in central Europe; in his native
country he was at best equivocally received and he didn’t tour America
until the early 1920s. His Beethoven and Liszt were widely admired,
especially in Germany where he settled and he maintained a small but
persistent hold on the recording catalogues though not one that outlasted
him. Returning to Britain before the outbreak of the Second World War
he met with a degree of indifference, though he did perform a couple
of concerts as a duo with Albert Sammons, after the early death of the
violinist’s colleague William Murdoch. But Lamond’s career wasn’t to
be revived; although he made some recordings for Decca in 1941 – inevitably
perhaps Beethoven, the "Moonlight" and Liszt, some things
including a performance of the "Waldstein" remaining unissued
– his day was past. He died in 1948 in Stirling.
Lamond has generally been thought of and remembered
as a stolid musician. The consensus was that his technique was adequate
but inclined to splinter, that he was insufficiently dramatic, that
he didn’t inflect the music with requisite colour; in short that he
was dull. I have always thought this unfair and a number of these Liszt
recordings – especially those from the February 1929 session when he
was on inspired form – go a long way to making a counter-claim of greatness.
The recordings here are from his HMV and Electrola sessions between
1919 and 1936. Invariably, given that his earliest recordings here are
London made acoustics there are duplications, sometimes multiple; two
recordings of Erlkönig, three of Gnomenreigen and a remarkable
four of a particular Lamond favourite, Un sospiro, dating from 1921,
1925, 1927 and 1936 (he even recorded it for Decca in 1941). A full
panoply of qualities emerge from these recordings; no hell for leather
dash in Erlkönig, the ending all the more inherently malign for
the concise and precise dynamic gradients being the more reigned in.
His Un sospiro of 1921 is quite exciting; certainly, as alleged, there
are technical shortcomings here and elsewhere and comparison with the
1925 early electric version does show a slaking of excitement – the
tempo is considerably slower and the rubato more obviously applied.
There again by 1927, the time of his next recording of it – clearly
as Bryan Crimp’s note suggests the 1925 version was considered expendable
– there is much greater inflection, the rubato less jaggedly indulged,
the performance entirely improved from the unsatisfactory earlier version.
Lamond’s playing was by no means static therefore; his interpretations
could change given changed circumstances, such as the nature of the
recording or its location. Whatever happened in February 1929 he was
on regal – not invincible, just superb – form when he went to the Small
Queen’s Hall to set down a series of discs. This is where I suggest
you look in this particular disc for something of Lamond’s greatness.
The Cujus Animam derived from Rossini’s Stabat Mater is rhythmically
supple, wonderfully balanced, and full of colour and nuance. Immediately
afterwards he set to work on the Petrarch Sonnet No 104 and another
masterpiece – technique and mood in accord, left hand perhaps rather
subservient to the right but that right hand is nobly elevated and powerful.
He is superbly controlled and virtuosic in the Tarantella from Venezia
e Napoli whilst the Valse Impromptu is idiosyncratic, certainly, but
enjoyable. In the Tarantelle di bravura he’s not entirely confident
technically but the music’s outlines are crystal clear. Feux follets
completes a tremendous session is real style.
The disc concludes with four sides made for Electrola
in Berlin in May 1936. There is a falling away from the 1929 gold standard.
Gnomenreigen is again quite slow and whilst his Waldesrauschen is beautiful
and sensitively done his 1936 Un sospiro is rather cool and undemonstrative.
APR have done Lamond proud here; I recommend the disc to doubting Lisztians
and refer those interested to Biddulph’s two Lamond discs. Confirmed
admirers will hope that an imaginative company releases Lamond’s preserved
BBC talk on Liszt, which is full of instructive things, and was once
available on a Rare Records LP.