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Etelka Freund (piano)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata in F minor Op. 5
Scherzo in E flat minor Op. 4
Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel Op. 35
Intermezzo in C sharp minor Op. 117 No. 2
Intermezzo in E flat minor Op. 118 No. 6
Capriccio in F sharp minor Op. 76 No. 1
Intermezzo in A minor Op. 116 No. 2
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Well Tempered Clavier Book I
Prelude in C minor
Fugue in C minor
Prelude in E flat minor
Fugue in D sharp minor
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Fantasia in F sharp minor
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Valse oubliée
St Francis of Assisi's Sermon to the Birds
Impromptu in F sharp
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
9 Piano pieces Op. 3
No. III Lenon. Andante
No. V (quos ego…) Furioso
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Bagatelle Op. 6 No. 12
Sketch Op. 98b No. 4
For Children, part one; Melodies from Hungarian Children's and Folk Songs;
Ten Easy Pieces; Evening in Transylvania
Etelka Freund (piano)
Recorded privately and previously unpublished or on Remington LP
PEARL GEMM CDS 9193 [2 CDs: 156.39]

Not many musicians who had played to Brahms lived into the late 1970s but Etelka Freund (1879-1977) was one. She was taught initially by her brother, Robert, himself a fine musician who had studied with Moscheles, no less, as well as Tausig and Liszt and was twenty-five years Etelka's senior. She was also taught by Ignaz Brüll despite having also been accepted by master pedagogue Leschetizky. It was during her Viennese years that she called on Brahms, weekly, to play to him. In 1898 she went on to Busoni and she was, and was to remain, a favoured and much admired student of his. He wrote well and admiringly of her. She knew Bartók for many years and was apparently responsible for introducing him to Busoni. She was an early exponent of Bartók's music, his Op. 6 Bagatelles and the Sketch in particular. Her marriage in 1910 led to her effectively giving up public performance for the next quarter of a century, only resurfacing in 1936, at which point her career took on depressingly familiar - and yet not entirely unprofitable - turns. She emigrated to America in 1946, joining her son (who was majorly responsible for ensuring that so many of her radio broadcasts were recorded). Her US debut was in the following year (at Washington's National Gallery) In her early seventies she made a couple of now exceptionally rare LPs for Remington (and off-shoot Plymouth, Chopin Waltzes) by which any external reputation she had was for long to be judged. Some of these are here, added to which we have a welter of astoundingly rare broadcast survivals. I suppose analogies could be made between these recordings and those initiated by Michael G. Thomas of the Pupils of Clara Schumann - Adelina de Lara and Ilona Eibenschütz amongst them. Valuable performance traditions can always be inferred and debated when it comes to those musicians who have an unusually close association with a composer. The temptation in Freund's case, for example, as in say Fanny Davies' Schumann is to seek something concretely explicatory about a performance tradition. Whether, in Freund's case, it is any more or less significant than say Steinbach's or Fiedler's Brahms (we have the latter on disc) is of course a complex issue.

The Brahms Sonata, amongst the most valuable of the set, derives from a Remington LP of 1953. Now seventy-four and with a sporadic career behind her this is a revealing performance. Implacable but not granitic in the Allegro maestoso, she is neither improbably fast nor luxuriantly slow. She's not note perfect and sometimes her rhythm seems off-hand. However judged against the live Gieseking recording issued on Arbiter these tracks reveal her to be a musician of probity in comparison to his lacerating and damagingly plundered performance, with dropped notes plastered over the score. Though she opens the slow movement sounding quite jaunty, comparison between tempo extremes here (Oppitz 12.48 and Grainger 8.41) reveal her to have taken an entirely natural tempo. The narrative breadth is well and truly conveyed. The trio section of the Scherzo is most attractively done. The Intermezzo is otherworldly, funereal, almost Mahlerian in her hands. The finale has a songful naturalness and a steady, cumulatively expressive nuance. Throughout she plays with generous lightness; her touch is fine, her conception eschews the sense of doggedness. The Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel is equally impressive, if more than once a technical problem for her; joyful with splendidly detonated runs in the very first variation, powerful and grandiloquent in the fourth, frolicsome and subtle in the fourteenth. She demonstrates marvellous accenting and genuine clarity of voices in the twenty-third variation.

Her Bach is laced with romanticised depth, the Mendelssohn is notably athletic still, her Liszt reflective. Funérailles is quite soft-grained in comparison with a hyper virtuoso performance such as Horowitz's. The Bartók includes those two works so closely associated with her name, the Bagatelle and the Sketch (Op. 9b No. 4) - both marvellous - and a selection from For Children, those little glistening gems that she plays with such obvious current of feeling. She also plays more Brahms. Rightly or wrongly one still pursues her for even tangential clues as to how they should "go." Interestingly whilst the A minor Intermezzo (from a Remington LP) is attractively small-scaled, the rather earlier 1950 Capriccio in F sharp minor - recorded off-air - lacks a certain sympathy. It may be a feature of the recording level but she doesn't seem to have used enough left hand. Otherwise, most instructive.

Freund lived on for another twenty years after the last of these private performances. Her tiny commercial discography has been fascinatingly enriched here - transfers by Seth Winner who has done excellently with the occasional distortion and general wear and tear, on the acetates and tapes especially. Notes by Allan Evans are extensive and most informative.

Jonathan Woolf

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