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Benno Moiseiwitsch Volume 7: Historical Recordings 1928-1948
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Moment musical in E minor, Op. 16 No. 4a (1896) [2’55]. Preludes: C sharp minor, Op. 3 No. 2b (1892) [3’47]; G minor, Op. 23 No. 5b (1903) [3’43]; Op. 32 (1910) – No. 5 in Gc [2’16]; No. 10 in B minor (two versions, [4’45]d and [4’47]e); No. 12 in G sharp minorc 2’07]. Lilacs, Op. 21 No. 5f (1902) [2’36].
Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)

Piano Sonata in G minor, Op. 22g (1919/20) [15’29]. Fairy Tales – E minor, Op. 34 No. 2h (1916/17); F minor, Op. 42 No. 1I (1921/23). Round Dance, Op. 58 No. 1 (c1940)j.
Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)

Piano Sonata No. 3 in F, Op. 46k (1946) [14’44].
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Suggestion diabolique, Op. 4 No. 4l (1910-12) [2’36].
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)

Toccata in B flatm (1932) [2’19].
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)/LEVANT

Gayaneh (1942) – Sabre Dancen [2’19].
Benno Moiseiwitsch (piano); Nikolai Medtner (piano, Round Dance).
Rec. Abbey Road Studio No. 3, aOctober 20th, 1943, bAugust 2nd, 1940, cOctober 19th, 1943, dAugust 2nd, 1940, eOctober 3rd, 1940, fOctober 5th, 1948, gMarch 4th and 11th. 1943, hMarch 1st, 1928, iApril 27th, 1944, jOctober 24th, 1946, kOctober 5th, 1946, lMarch 1st, 1928, mMarch 4th, 1943, nOctober 5th, 1948. ADD
NAXOS GREAT PIANISTS 8.110675 [79’21]


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This disc is a gift. For only a fiver, here is some sovereign pianism of the old school in excellent sound restoration by Ward Marston. True, collectors may find they are replicating some of Philips 456 907-2 (Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century), which includes the Kabalevsky and Medtner Sonatas. But the rewards here are great, and for those new to Moiseiwitsch’s art (and it really is art), it is difficult to think of a better introduction. Naxos’s seventh volume of Moiseiwitsch recordings centres on Russian composers who straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Moiseiwitsch was actually a friend of Rachmaninov as well as one of his most powerful exponents. Moiseiwitsch’s Rachmaninov has always enjoyed the best of reputations. It is rooted in an unimpeachable integrity. Emotional outpourings, never undersold, are nevertheless subsumed within a certain distancing that shows relevant the work as a coherent entity. Part of this ‘distancing’ impression comes from Moiseiwitsch’s pedal work. In the best tradition of Russian pianists (born in Odessa and a pupil of Leschetizky), he is more sparing than more Western European counterparts in this department, allowing counterpoint and subsidiary voices to speak with the utmost clarity. Even the now-hackneyed C sharp minor Prelude (Op. 3 No. 2) emerges as a truly magisterial utterance. It is impressive, certainly. Interesting it is placed second on the disc: it emerges as the logical outcome of the account of the E minor Moment musical from Op. 16. This latter is amazingly smooth, full of the contained power that lies at the heart of Rachmaninov.

Interesting, too, that Naxos give the listener the chance to compare two performances of the B minor Prelude (Op. 32 No. 10), recorded a mere two months apart. The first was issued only on Victor. Chords are superbly together, carefully placed and punctuating the quietly rocking figure. The build-up in the middle section is most carefully graduated. The slightly later performance is a little more impetuous. Both have much to recommend them: possibly the preference will lie in the listener’s mood at the time.

The highlight of the Rachmaninov group, without doubt, is the G major Prelude, Op. 32 No. 5. This seemingly Anglo-Russian idyll is caught on the wing. Filigree decorations are without parallel, trills miraculous. The coda (the composer’s debt to Chopin made clear here) is wonderfully affecting. Recorded at Abbey Road Studio No. 3 on October 19th, 1943, this must have been quite a day. From the same session comes a flowing G sharp minor Prelude (Op. 32 No. 12), the close of which is timed to perfection. It seems entirely fitting that the Rachmaninov group closes with Lilacs, in an incredibly tender performance that highlights Moiseiwitsch’s sensitivity.

The composer Nikolai Medtner was incredibly lucky in the pianists who chose to champion his music. Gilels was one; here Moiseiwitsch’s principal offering is the G minor Sonata, Op. 22. Moiseiwitsch presents the Sonata as a fine work in its own right, rather than as a Russified Brahms. Tremendous sweep is married to a remarkable clarity of texture, even when the writing becomes fairly convoluted. Medtner referred to the second movement as ‘Interludium’, yet it becomes far more than this under Moiseiwitsch’s fingers. The sonata concludes with an Allegro assai in which one feels one is in the presence of total interpretative security. It is one of those occasions where, whilst one may be aware that other approaches may be valid, when one listens there is no space for any other interpretation. This Sonata alone is worth the price of the disc.

The two Fairy Tales and the Round Dance (in which Moiseiwitsch is joined by the composer himself!) are more than encores. There is much delightful fantasy here. The Round Dance is more playful, more angular, than the other pieces, the harmonies nice and pungent. In many ways this six-minute piece acts as the crowning glory of the Medtner section of the disc as well as representing a valuable historical document in its own right.

Kabalevsky’s Third Sonata is a delight. Moiseiwitsch superbly captures the bitter-sweet quality of this essentially harmless music. The way he melts back into the restatement of the opening at 3’47 is pure magic. The ‘cantabile’ part of the slow movements marking is aurally obvious: Moiseiwitsch makes the listener more than aware of the vocal potentialities of the melodic lines. The finale is something of a miracle in that Moiseiwitsch injects something into music that in lesser hands could degenerate into the banal. Instead, there is a piquant spikiness that will not fail to raise a smile.

As with the Medtner, the Sonata is effectively followed by a trio of encores. Different composers, this time, though. The Prokofiev Suggestion diabolique represents supreme piano playing, even if it could be incarnated more violently in other hands; the Khachaturian Toccata has tremendous passion while the Sabre Dance (say this composer’s name, it shall appear!) is all of the romp it should be.

Unhesitatingly recommended.

Colin Clarke

 



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