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Welte-Mignon Piano Rolls - Volume 1
Content - see below
Recorded on Welte-Mignon piano rolls between 1905 and 1927
NAXOS 8.110677

Ignace PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)

Minuet Op. 14 No. 1 – played by Ignace Paderewski
Johann STRAUSS (1825-1899) arr. SCHULZ-EVLER

The Blue Danube, Arabesque – played by Josef Lhevinne
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Rapsodie d’Auvergne in C major Op. 73 – played by Camille Saint-Saëns
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1809-1847)

Polonaise in F sharp major Op. 44 – played by Josef Hofmann
Niccolo PAGANINI (1782-1840) arr. Franz LISZT

Paganini Etude No. 5 in E major- played by Egon Petri
FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828) arr. TAUSIG

Marche Militaire in D major – played by Télémaque Lambrino
Alfred GRÜNFELD (1852-1924)

Dinner waltz (from The Man about Town) – played by Alfred Grünfeld
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Gaspard de la nuit No. 1 Ondine – played by Walter Gieseking
Josef HAYDN (1732-1809) arr. SAINT-SAËNS

Andante from Symphony No. 94 Sunrise – played by Rudolph Ganz
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764) arr. GODOWSKY

Minuet in A minor – played by Hans Haass
Georges BIZET (1838-1875) arr. HOROWITZ

Virtuoso Fantasy (from Carmen) – played by Vladimir Horowitz
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

La Nuit – played by Rudolph Ganz

Staccato Caprice in F sharp major – played by Yolanda Mero

The Welte-Mignon piano used a series of carbon rods attached to each of the keys which lowered into a trough of mercury to complete an electrical circuit when the pianist hit a note. The circuit caused inked rollers to mark a roll of paper with the note itself and also the speed and depth of the attacked note. Playback was possible before the roll was manually perforated for public consumption on a player piano. Theoretically then dynamic shading and pedalling could be registered by the complex system but Welte-Mignon was, irrespective of the secrecies and ambiguities of the system, something of a world leader in the player piano world. Something of their eminence can be gauged by the composers who went to record for them – Mahler, Ravel and Debussy amongst them.

The rolls on Naxos first volume in their new Welte-Mignon series date from 1905-27 – though some, such as Rudolph Ganz’s recordings and Gieseking’s are undated. Using a restored Steinway-Welte piano we have pristine sound quality albeit the action of the piano is rather noisy. Clearly the considerable controversy that the player piano has engendered over the years will not simply disappear. Because some of the processes were somewhat opaque and because the level of "post-editing" and manual intervention is unknown some critics have exercised considerable caution in the claims made on behalf of the system, whether Welte-Mignon or Ampico or any other of the many companies that produced such rolls. Others have welcomed the recordings on the "more the merrier" principle. My own feeling is that the layer of mechanical intervention causes insurmountable problems but that we should still willingly listen to them for any light they may shine on the pianists concerned. Such was the case when I reviewed the rolls of the American Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler, who made no disc recordings. In such a case the piano rolls were, however imperfectly, an important component of her legacy.

To my ears Hoffmann’s Chopin Polonaise shows signs of the roll’s besetting weakness, that of rhythmic stiffness. The now little known Télémaque Lambrino may indeed have played Schubert’s Marche Militaire in such a bluffly unrelieved way – or again it may be an inevitable corollary of the system under which he was recorded. Was Hans Haass really so rhythmically eccentric in his Rameau and though Horowitz drives into the trademark Carmen Fantasy parts of it sound unconvincing in the light of what we know of his playing from contemporary 78s. Similarly we do know very well what Grünfeld sounded like and he sounds correspondingly and predictably vivacious here.

I’m looking forward to this series unfolding. Notes are good and I’m indebted to them for some technical details.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Don Satz


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