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Welte-Mignon Piano
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Aufforderung zum Tanz Op.65 – Rondo brilliant [8.40]
Artur Schnabel

Leo DELIBES (1836-1891)

Valse lente from Coppelia [3.06]
Arthur Nikisch

Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana [2.18]
Georg Zscherneck

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Liebesträume No.3 [3.35]
Eugen d’Albert

La Campanella [4.03]
Ferruccio Busoni

Reminiscences of Norma – Grande Fantasie [11.37]
Ferruccio Busoni

Matthias van den GHEYN (1721-1785)

Prelude, Coucou (Carillon) [2.13]
Fanny Davies

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (17560-1791)

Sonata K576- first movement [3.38]
Raoul Pugno

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata No.18 Op.53 Waldstein – first movement [7.00]
Teresa Carreño

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Polonaise Op.71 No 2 – [5.06]
Theodor Leschetizky

Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)

Gavotte Op.16 No.3 [2.14]
Lazzaro Uzielli

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Hochzeitsmarsch und Elfenreigen – Midsummer Night’s Dream arranged Franz LISZT [7.00]
Felix Dreyschok

Paul de SCHLOZER (1841-1898)

Etude in E flat [2,40]
Josef Lhevinne

Emil von SAUER (1862-1942)

Echo of Vienna – Concert Waltz [5.36]
Emil von Sauer

Welte-Mignon Piano Rolls made between 1905 and 1909; pianists noted as above, reproduced and recorded in the Waldhaus salon
TUDOR 7104 [70.04]

Firstly, my by now obligatory introduction to the Welte-Mignon system. Pass on to the next paragraph if you’re au fait.

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.

We’re living in interesting times for reissues of 1905-09 Welte material and a number of companies are active in the market place. There are fortunately a large number of rolls from which to choose and the number of pianists who left behind trace material in this form is, as we have seen, significant, Of great interest, in addition to the composers, is the long line of musicians who never made disc recordings. The invariable caveat is the mechanical nature of the system itself, about which a great deal has been written. 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.

Unfortunately Tudor, a company I admire for their admirable commitment to under-explored areas of the repertoire, has come a little unstuck with their contribution to the Welte industry. There’s persistent ambient noise throughout and some action noise. It’s true that one’s ear is drawn to the piano sound, by and large in tune, but the extraneous noise is a touch unfortunate. More worrying is the sleeve note writer’s drawing attention to Carreño’s outrageous performance of the opening movement of the Waldstein sonata, characterising it as obsessed with speed. Well, yes, it is outrageous and manic here. But turn to a rival performance of it on Pierian and it’s a completely different performance. Carreño actually recorded the whole sonata and Tudor gives us just the first movement. To spell things out; Tudor’s lasts seven minutes, Pierian’s eight and a half and in that old wise saw they can’t both be right. My money is on Pierian. Not only that but Tudor’s sound is dull in comparison.

As ever rhythmic stiffness rules; Schnabel’s Weber is a particular case in point and the Nikisch is jerky. Zscherneck’s Mascagni is leaden. The d’Albert Liszt doesn’t convince (stick to his discs). Pugno rushes arbitrarily, doubtless assisted by the Welte system, Uzielli gives rubato laden performance of Godard’s inconsequential piece, and Sauer’s own piece is again too jerky to be a realistic example of his pianism. Naturally it’s valuable to have some examples of Busoni, however imperfect and of Leschetizky who never recorded on disc. Maybe the most convincing performance is Fanny Davies’ – but then perhaps only because it’s the most mechanistic piece.

The notes are genial enough and there are some good biographies of the pianists concerned. But this is not a convincing example of the Welte roll and, like the system itself, a very great deal needs to be taken on trust.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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