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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948): Complete Recordings Volume 3
Christopher Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787) arr. Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Gavotte (rec. 9.2.1928)
GLUCK/FRIEDMAN

Menuet (Judgement of Paris) (10.2.1928)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) arr. Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Hark, hark the lark (10.2.1928)
SCHUBERT/FRIEDMAN

Alt Wien (2.3.1928)
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Polonaise in B flat op. 71/1 (15.2.1929), Mazurkas: f op. 7/3, B flat op. 7/1, a op. 7/2, D op. 33/2, b op. 33/3, b flat op. 24/4, c sharp op. 41/1, A flat op. 50/2, c sharp op. 63/3, C op. 67/3, a op. 67/4, a op. 68/2 (all rec. 13.9.1930 except op. 41/1, rec. 17.9.1930 with an additional performance rec. 10.10.1929 and previously issued only in the USA)
Friedman speaks on Chopin (beginning of talk given on New Zealand Radio, 11.1940)
Ignaz Friedman (piano)
Recorded in London, dates as above
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110690 [60:38]



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There are some old friends of mine here Ė principally the Chopin Ė from an Opal double-LP album. Opal, as Pearlís historical records were then called, believed in "straight" transfers with no noise reduction. Ward Marston, who is responsible for the Naxos series, has no truck with Cedar processing or the like, but he evidently believes that surface hiss can be reduced to less obtrusive levels without undue impairment of the sound. There is certainly a lot less surface here and the piano sound is mellower, which might be considered a synonym for "muffled". I wouldnít make much of this since I was too engrossed in the performances to worry until I came to the end and made a few comparisons. I do however find just that little more presence in the Opal sound (though I do not know if those transfers are available on CD, and with what results).

Until Rubinstein recorded his first set of the complete Mazurkas in 1939-40, Friedmanís four 78s, all present here, were the most comprehensive selection from a single artist. The Rubinstein set is already available on Naxos and has been reviewed by me, as have been notable sets by Nina Milkina and Joyce Hatto. If you hop back and forth between Friedman and any one of these three, you will probably get a heart attack and will certainly miss the point of what Friedman is doing. It is true that, looked at coldly with a score in front of one, he can seem pretty much a law unto himself. Dynamics are upgraded and downgraded at will, bass notes are thickened. He can sometimes surge forward so impetuously that itís difficult to be sure if he has played all the notes. He inserts expressive commas here and there and the mazurkasí rhythms can sometimes lead to such a separation between the second and third beat that every bar seems to have a hiccough in the middle of it. But then close your eyes and just listen to how the music speaks, how one moment it dances gracefully, how the next it evokes peasant instruments, and how it then speaks of infinite melancholy. The sounds and sensations of Chopinís loving evocations of his homeland are uniquely realised. Note, too, how he takes a little-known Polonaise (not included by Rubinstein in his "complete" Polonaise recordings) and makes it blossom into a thing of real beauty. A little voice inside me says it ought to be possible to realise them while remaining close to the letter of the score, but the fact is that no-one has done so. Basically, I am in favour of a "purist", non-interventionist style of musical interpretation, but there are a few artists whose sheer creativity makes me wonder if I havenít been getting it wrong all these years, and Friedman is chief among them.

Though the Chopin is the thing here the four arrangements which open the disc are well worth having, full of elegance, charm and some wonderful examples of Friedmanís light and even fingerwork. With an informative note by Jonathan Summers this is an essential item in any Chopin collection, and it is completed by the opening of a broadcast talk Friedman gave in New Zealand, cut off, alas, just as he is getting into his stride.

Christopher Howell



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