Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Concerto no. 1 in E flat (1) (rec. 1951)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Concerto no. 2 in g (2) (rec. 1953)
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Concerto in a (3) (rec. 1948), To the Spring op. 43/6 (rec. 1948)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata in c sharp op. 27/1 Ė "Moonlight" (rec. 1929)
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757) arr. TAUSIG (1841-1871)

Pastorale, Capriccio (rec. 1929)
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Etude op. 25/9 (rec. 1929)
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)

Paraphrase on Chopin Etude op. 25/9 (rec. 1929)

Mazurkas op. 33/1, op. 68/2 (rec. 1943), Valse op. 64/2, Berceuse op. 57 (rec. 1924)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel, op. 24 (rec. 1951)
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Romance in D flat op. 24/9 (rec. 1951)
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Nocturne op. 9/2 for left hand (rec. 1947)
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Prelude in g op. 23/5 (2 performances, rec. 1929 and 1951)
Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1948)

Wienertanz no. 2 (rec. 1929)
Victor Schiøler (piano), Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra/Issay Dobrowen (1), Nicolai Malko (2), Erik Tuxen (3)
Dates as above, recordings made (when known) in England or Denmark
DANACORD DACOCD 491-492 [2 CDs 71:45+74:25]

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Victor Schiøler was born in 1899 into a musical family, the son of Victor Bendix, a composer and conductor whose name is also to be found in the Danacord catalogue, and Augusta Schiøler, a pianist. Apart from his mother his teachers included Ignaz Friedman and Arthur Schnabel and he made his debut in 1914 (I should point out that I am dependent for my information on the booklet notes which are full, readable and very interesting). He pursued an energetic career as pianist, conductor and musical organiser, which was interrupted during the rise of Nazism (he was living in Germany in 1933) and the German occupation of Denmark. He firmly resisted any collaboration with the Nazi powers and the hiatus allowed him to develop another interest, that of medicine, in which he graduated. In 1943 he fled to Sweden with his wife and resumed concert work. Concert tours dominated his life once more until, at a rather late age, he succeeded in having a son and cut back on his concert work in order to dedicate himself as much as possible to his family. He died in 1967 at no very great age. He was a much valued teacher and the first Danish pianist to make discs (the 1924 Chopin included here).

Though I deplore nothing more than the attitude "If I havenít heard of him he canít be any good", on being faced with an album boldly entitled "The Great Danish Pianist Victor Schiøler" I couldnít help muttering "Iíll be the judge of that", or words to the same effect. I began with the solo disc and as I heard first the upper line and then the middle voice in bar 4 of the Beethoven sonata sing warmly but without exaggeration it was immediately evident that I was listening at the very least to an extremely fine pianist. The Allegretto second movement seemed a little slow at the start but this is a problematical movement and this songful approach finds more in it than many. The finale has much finely controlled Beethovenian energy.

The Scarlatti/Tausig emerge Ė as was usual at that time Ė as romantic tone pictures but allow further appreciation of Schiølerís warmly rounded tone, always luminous and natural, never hardening at climaxes or when under technical pressure. This consistently beautiful sound seems to emerge unscathed whether it reaches us via pre-electric recordings of the mid-20s or early LPs which could hardly have been state-of-the-art even in their day. Danacordís transfer philosophy is, as always, that of the unvarnished truth; maybe a Mike Dutton or a Ward Marston or a Mark Obert-Thorn could get more out of them, but at least they have not been damaged by well-intentioned computer processes and for this relief much thanks.

In his cultivation of a beautiful sound Schiøler owes little to his one mentor Schnabel; on the other hand his disciplined approach to musical structure is a far cry from the wayward genius of his other master Friedman. Of all the great pianists, the one he most resembles is Solomon, I thought as I listened to his Brahms which is polished, idiomatic, supremely musical a well-structured, with just a hint, as could happen with Solomon too, that his inner self is occasionally looking the other way. At the opposite pole to Moiseiwitschís joyously free-wheeling performance (indispensable on Naxos) but worth knowing.

I am not convinced that Chopin was his composer. It was a neat idea to have the study and Godowskyís paraphrase of it on a single 78 side, but the study is merely neatly despatched as if it were a prelude for the real business in hand, the Godowsky. The op. 33/1 mazurka has too much indoor elegance to realise convincingly that most difficult of Polish dance-forms. On the other hand op. 68/2, while not erasing memories of Friedman, is definitely a mazurka. The Valse has nice touches without the dancersí feet quite ever leaving the floor, but the Berceuse is very beautifully done (some perceptive inner voicings) and is a version worth keeping to hand. Schiølerís obvious sympathy for Sibelius cannot wholly override the composerís sometimes clumsy piano writing.

None of this had prepared me for the really perfect performance of the Scriabin. The interplay between melody and accompaniment is beautifully realised and there is a sense of romantic freedom in the context of a basic rhythmic discipline. I canít imagine a finer performance.

We get two versions of the Rachmaninov G minor prelude, that from 1929 tossed off a little too briskly, the 1951 performance only 23 seconds longer but seemingly having all the time in the world to bring out the lyrical lines of the middle section. Another very fine performance, as is that of Friedmanís charming little piece, where Schiøler evidently feels free for once to indulge in the sort of rhythmic inflexions the master himself might have given it.

It is clear by now that Schiølerís special qualities were as an interpreter of late romantic composers, whom he performed with a natural warmth and a beauty of tone coupled with an inner discipline which never worked against freedom of expression. In the three concertos he displays all this combined with a keyboard flair and authority which bring out all that is most genuine in each work. You will hear many a more barnstorming version of the Liszt but you will scarcely find one which allows the workís purely musical qualities to glow more brightly. I listened entranced.

It would be too much to expect anyone to efface memories of Rubinsteinís shaping of certain phrases in the Saint-Saëns (especially the second movement) but this is a beautiful performance nonetheless, and finest of all is the Grieg. Listen to how he takes up the main theme of the first movement after Tuxenís brightly perky presentation of it and you will appreciate how deeply personal his inflexion of the music is without any distortion; itís all in the sound and the phrasing. This is wonderful musicianship. It is a performance of great freshness, finding affection for the slower themes while keeping them moving more than usual and with particularly close support from Tuxen (but he is fortunate in all three conductors even if the Danish orchestra sometimes offers some suspect wind intonation). I donít think Iíve ever heard better and this effortlessly joins the historical versions from the late-shellac/early vinyl period by Lipatti, Solomon and Curzon. And I canít say more than that.

"To the Spring" presumably filled a spare side. Untrammelled by the need to cope with an orchestra the engineers have brought the piano in closer and Schiølerís glorious sound can be heard in a performance which seems to me absolute perfection in its combination of warmth, poetry and ardour. If he recorded any other solo music by Grieg I hope I shall hear it one day.

At this point my concurrence with the headline "The Great Danish Pianist Victor Schiøler" would appear self-evident. I am quite convinced he deserves that accolade even though I have not yet a clear idea of the range of his art; for this I need to hear more. With orchestra he recorded Tchaikovsky 1 (twice), the "Emperor" and the Liszt Hungarian Fantasia; I have no idea how extensive his solo recordings were. A complete edition would be most welcome.

Christopher Howell


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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