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Moiseiwitsch in Recital
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Ballade in F Op. 38
Nocturne in G Op. 37/2
Scherzo in B flat minor Op. 31
Prelude in F Op. 28/23
Prelude in B flat minor Op. 38/16
My joys arranged Franz LISZT
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Fantasie and Fugue in G minor arranged Franz LISZT
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Hark, hark the lark! arranged Franz LISZT
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Tannhäuser Overture arranged Franz LISZT
Igor STRAVINSKY

Etude Op. 7 No. 4
Moiseiwitsch interviewed by Abram Chasins
Benno Moiseiwitsch (piano)
Recorded live 1954-60
ARBITER 120 [72.07]

 

Even though the BBC Archives have released some rare live Moiseiwitsch – concerto performances, principally from the Proms – it remains true to say that little live recital material from his later years has survived. Arbiter here collates performances from his world tours – New York in 1958 and again in 1960 and from 1954 from Australia, New Zealand or South Africa (the exact location is in doubt). Best of all of course would be to find recitals from his golden years but in the absence of such we must be grateful for what we do have and that the sonic problems have been so well overcome here.

The problems, intermittent though they are, are not confined to the source material alone because Moiseiwitsch was no longer quite the impeccable technician and stylist of old. His technique had taken a buffeting during the War years when incessant travelling across the British Isles had taken its toll (and recordings at around the end of the War tend to document the fact) but it recovered over the next few years. But even though Moiseiwitsch was now only in his mid to late sixties the worn technique does make itself apparent in numerous ways – a considerable number of finger slips, faults of chording and co-ordination and the lengthening shadows of incipient old age generally pursue his playing. Nevertheless much of the nobility and colouristic beauty remains for this to be an important release and if you can look past – and hear past – the imperfections you can still find a great deal to admire and cherish.

The Chopin Ballade in F starts beautifully but there are some very uncomfortable moments along the way, technical splashes of which some are, frankly, major. From the same 1960 New York recital comes the B flat major Scherzo and this shows a distinct improvement in his technical resources – it’s far from note perfect but seems more agile and determined with much better co-ordination between the hands and very impressively characterised. The B flat major Prelude has some fine – though inconsistently fine – things in it. The Bach-Liszt Organ fantasie is notable of course for the first named because Moiseiwitsch was certainly not noted for his Bach, at least on record. But this is a very fine performance, one dropout excepted (it doesn’t last long) along with some wow on the tape, with the pianist strong and commanding, his voicings in the Fugue so subtle and restrained that one cranes to hear them. I would characterise the performance of the Chopin-Liszt "My Joys" as the carapace of a great performance because the finger slips do tend to sabotage it as a reading. The Wagner-Liszt Tannhäuser was always one of his most intoxicatingly magnificent performances (the 1938 HMV set is ever present on my turntable). He is still grand, noble and still commands something of the leonine "three handed" drama of it, with something of the sonorous drama of old, even if he is no longer the technically eloquent stylist of old and the climax doesn’t blaze as it once did. Nor is the Stravinsky quite the little marvel he once made of it. The disc concludes with an amusing and avuncular chat between two colleagues, Moiseiwitsch and Abram Chasins, on the subject of Rachmaninov.

So in conclusion a disc that, for all the digital flaws, brings rare and important late Moiseiwitsch to a wider public. I couldn’t recommend it to those who have yet to experience his art – they would find it compromised – and to those for whom Moiseiwitsch is still one of the supreme musicians I would counsel intelligent detachment; in that spirit one can still appreciate much about his outstanding musicianship.

Jonathan Woolf



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