Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Leo Sirota. Tokyo Farewell Concert
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)

Pastorale in E minor
Capriccio in E
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata No.18 in E flat Op.31 No.3 (1802)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Sonata in A minor D845 (1845)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Don Juan Fantasy
The voice of Sirota; a message to his family
Leo Sirota (piano)
Recorded in Tokyo December 1963 except Liszt (radio broadcast March 1955) and the message (May 1960)
ARBITER 123 [77.15]

The second of my encounters with Leo Sirota takes us to his Tokyo Farewell recital made in 1963, two years before the pianistís death. The Ukraine born Busoni student had come to the Italian highly recommended by Glazunov. His Viennese start was auspicious and he first visited Japan, then clamouring for Western classical musicians (see the visits of Burmester, Thibaud, Szigeti, Butt and many others) in 1928 intending a brief visit. He and his wife stayed eighteen years. They were even there during the War when they were evacuated to a remote location and lived in tough circumstances. In 1946 he moved to St Louis to take up a position at the Institute of Music. Sirota did record but relatively sparsely and his discs have always been hard to track down; the existence, in various collections, of fifty hours of Sirota broadcasts and performances is a boon to collectors who have reason to be grateful that such material is now appearing.

The farewell recital began with the two Scarlatti pieces, the Pastorale rather sleepy and rhythmically endangered, and the Capriccio slightly better. His Beethoven Sonata grows in strength; itís true that he can be capricious with the rhythm and that his thunderous bass attacks (something of a trademark) can be over scaled but thereís much here thatís immediately impressive. I like his way with the contrastive material in the Scherzo Ė and one can almost feel the increased confidence as he essays strong accents and shows a real sense of style in his playing. As ever heís not note perfect but then again he was seventy-eight. When he unleashes the bass led torrents of the presto con fuoco finale itís certainly something to hear.

Itís in the Schubert that he reaches the apex of his playing in this last recital. There is real sensitivity here and he brings out the pensive introspection and increasing unease with acumen and insight. There is a powerful sensibility at work in the slow movement, a sense once more of stylishness but also of direction. Heís a strong-willed and impulsive musician but adopts precisely the right tempo for the poco moto indication. The Scherzo certainly isnít, as we have seen from him, note perfect but it possesses a pithy and dramatic quality that makes up for a lot and the Rondo finale is most delightful.

Some years earlier heíd recorded Liszt in one of his regular St Louis broadcasts. These 1955 survivals show once more the cracks in his technique Ė sometimes Sirota makes Cortot look like Horowitz in that respect Ė but there are notable compensations. Thereís a little tape damage on Sposalizio but itís relatively minor and wonít curtail enjoyment. This is a rather slow reading and somewhat italicised but it does have baritonal sonorities in the left hand and the climax, though rather too late in the day, is strong. The Don Juan Fantasy probably shouldnít have been attempted on a technical level but Iím glad he did it anyway. For all the manifold slippages and very splashy moments Ė and there are many Ė the carapace of the interpretation is fascinating. Itís wonderfully grand and declamatory, heroically charged and shows what a Liszt stylist he was; maybe not one in Petriís class but then Petri recorded much of his Liszt at a much earlier age. It makes one wonder what Sirota would have done on disc with his Liszt just before his Japanese sojourn say, when electrical equipment could have done justice to his playing. But thatís one of those imponderables that emerge when the body of an artistís work emerges in middle to late age.

Once more the Arbiter booklet is well written and full of documentary interest and the photographs are both evocative and of good quality. If youíre hesitating because of Sirotaís technical frailties, donít.

Jonathan Woolf

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