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Grigory Ginzburg. Live Recordings - Volume I
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major S124 (1849) [17.45]
Piano Concerto No.2 in A major S125 (1839) [20.01]
Rhapsodie espagnole S254 arranged Ferrucio BUSONI (c.1863) [13.31]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Ständchen S560 No.7 - transcribed Franz LISZT [6.13]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

La Campanella S140 No.3 [4.25]
Grigory GINZBURG (1904-1961)

Fantasia on a theme of Largo al factotum from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia [4.15]
Grigory Ginzburg (piano)
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Nikolai Anosov
Recorded in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, February 24th 1949
Vox Aeterna VACD 00101 [66.11]

Grigory Ginzburg. Live Recordings - Volume III CD 1
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 transcribed Ferrucio BUSONI [9.38]
Siciliano from Sonata No.2 for Flute and Clavier in E flat major BWV 1031 transcribed G GALSTON [4.54]
Prelude and Fugue in D major BWV 532 [12.46]
Chorale Prelude; Ich ruf’ zu hir, Herr Jesu Christ in F minor BWV 639 from Orgel-Buchlein – transcribed Ferrucio BUSONI [3.38]
Chaconne from Partita No.2 for violin solo in D minor BWV 1004 (1720) - transcribed Ferrucio BUSONI [14.53]
Grigory Ginzburg (piano)
Recorded in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, December 25th 1957
Vox Aeterna VACD 00105 [45.49]

Grigory Ginzburg. Live Recordings Volume III CD 2
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Sonata for Piano No.3 in A minor Op.28 (1907 revised 1917) [6.58]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

From 12 Etudes Op.8; Nos 1, 7, 11 and 12 (1894) [9.58]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)

Three Preludes for Piano (1926) [6.48]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Réminiscences de Don Juan S418 (1841) [16.29]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Mazurka No.13 in A minor Op.17 No.4 (1834-35) [3.34]
Recorded in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, December 25th 1957
Vox Aeterna VACD 00106 [43.41]

Rightly included in the recent Philips Great Pianists of the 20th Century series Grigory Ginzburg was a near contemporary of Sofronitsky, Horowitz and Barere to name three Russian pianists with whose musicianship his own bears some comparison. His name has attracted less international lustre than theirs, mainly because he died at fifty-seven and spent most of his career in the Soviet Union and also because his recordings have been at the mercy of the Melodiya catalogues. Collectors will know how notoriously unreliable they proved – certainly in the LP era. Those fortunate enough to have amassed a sizeable chunk of his discography – I’m not amongst that number – will have become aware of the astonishing brilliance and poetry embodied in his playing; not just in respect of digital accuracy but in romantic finesse and beauty and depth of tone.

One of Alexander Goldenweiser’s most famous pupils, Ginzburg studied at the Moscow Conservatoire and won the first International Chopin Competition in 1927 at the age of twenty-four. For many years he combined an active concert career with extensive teaching at his old college and despite a heart attack in 1959 and the discovery of inoperable cancer he continued giving concerts almost to the end, in December 1961.

These three CDs form part of a larger six CD collection of live recordings culled from the Ginzburg family’s archive. They are all live performances, given in Moscow during the years 1949 to 1957. The sound quality varies, as one would expect, though it’s never less than serviceable and frequently considerably better. In view however of the relative paucity of such material we should be grateful for the riches that are here, ones that embrace such well known Ginzburg turns as the Réminiscences de Don Juan and Prokofiev’s Third Sonata, as well as examples of his Scriabin, an album devoted entirely to Bach, hyphenated or otherwise, the two Liszt Concertos and a sumptuous example of his limpid poeticism in the shape of the Schubert.

His Liszt is captured in rather raw 1949 sound. But right away we can appreciate the portentous call to arms announced by conductor Nikolai Anosov and the soloist’s balletic grace; there’s something distinctly aerial in Ginzburg’s passagework in the E flat major as well as sufficient fantasy and drama in the finale. His articulation is at its most bejewelled in the central passages of the A major; Anosov helps with some delicious string moulding in the Marziale section and there’s a sense of mutual understanding between the two throughout. We can also hear a genuinely poetically uplifting Rhapsodie espagnole and his famous reading of Ständchen in the Liszt transcription, truly special. To tie up the first disc we have Ginzburg’s own rip-roaring Fantasia on a theme of Largo al factotum from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, four minutes of Golden Age pianism that will have you enthralled.

His Bach disc derives from a later 1957 recital at the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. It’s a shame that the Christmas Day audience was suffering doubtless understandable bronchial attacks because the coughs riddle his Siciliano (from the Flute Sonata) but we can hear the great delicacy of his playing as we can the powerful attack of his Toccata and Fugue. The Busoni transcribed Ich ruf’ zu hir, Herr Jesu Christ is delicately phrased and relatively slow and has depth of bass leading notes that give it richness and significance; it’s not at all dramatic in the Petri manner, rather it’s reflective and introspective. The Chaconne begins with a rather cautious and expressive carapace; strong rubati abound and though passionate in places (where he fumbles and rushes bars in his haste) I was left with an impression of iconoclasm in this performance; it’s not entirely convincing, a feeling that extends to his Bach in general.

The third disc captures the second part of the Bach recital noted above. The Prokofiev sonata is on the Philips disc, though it’s a different performance – none of the performances on these three discs have apparently been reissued before. This live performance has the requisite heroic intensity and clarity. The Scriabin Etudes are somewhat more problematic. His contemporary Sofronitsky sculpts the B flat minor Etude with more drama in his 1960 Moscow recital – though Ginzburg’s is a reading strong on poetics. Ginzburg concentrates on colour and depth of tone whereas another contemporary, Horowitz, takes a stance mid way between the two, employing a deal of metrical flexibility. Ginzburg’s D sharp minor is subject to some mildly chaotic passagework amidst the torrent. It’s very fast indeed and – maybe this is the recording’s fault – at an unrelieved forte throughout. Certainly it lacks entirely the other two pianists’ qualities of phrasing. In Chopin – one example so we can hardly draw conclusive judgements - he is sweet and warm but less laudably he cuts the Mazurka. I have to say it doesn’t sound like a Mazurka rhythmically; for all Horowitz’s naughtiness his recording always does. The famous Ginzburg Réminiscences de Don Juan S418 are here; not quite the equal of Barere but then who ever has been. And we also have some unusual repertoire in the shape of the Gershwin Preludes. He plays these with an affectionate rather late nineteenth century feeling. They become studies in Russian melancholia (the C sharp minor) rather than New World pep; you won’t find much evidence of the deciso indication in the E flat minor either. If you can get the opposite of Jack Gibbons in Gershwin this is it.

Released to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of his birth, which fell in 2004, these discs constitute a valuable slice of rare, live Ginzburg. The notes are uniform for each CD and deal with the biography. His was a monumental talent, cut lamentably short, and we hear strong evidence of it here. Of course it’s an uneven set and there are some aural distractions but given those caveats nevertheless recommended to admirers and newcomers alike.

Jonathan Woolf


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