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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Complete Welte recordings of 1906:

Salome – fragments [3.37]
Salome – Dance of the Seven Veils [8.54]
Ein Heldenleben – Love Scene [3.51]
Feuersnot – Love Scene [5.37]
Stimmungsbilder (Mood Pictures) Op 9: No.1 [4.01]; No,2 [3.10]; No.3 [3.40]; No.4 [2.38]
Cäcilie Op.27 No.2
Heimliche Aufforderung Op.27 No.3 [2.32]
Richard Strauss (piano)
Recorded for Welte-Mignon in 1906
TACET 137 [40.27]

This Is Not A Historical Recording is the announcement in the booklet of Tacet’s latest revivification of Welte piano rolls. Their earlier releases were of Granados and Felix Mottl, the former playing his own works (most important as he never left behind disc recordings) and the latter playing Wagner transcriptions. These restored an important body of Welte rolls to the contemporary catalogue.

The issue of historical recording and piano rolls is a fraught one, as anyone who has listened to the numerous results can attest. A number of companies have been active in this market, Pierian and Naxos amongst them. And Pierian has been exceptionally assiduous in dealing with such as Scriabin and Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler.

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.

And, here is Strauss, recorded in February 1906. The selection is somewhat odd to put it mildly. There are fragments of Salome, including the Dance of the Seven Veils, a sliver from Ein Heldenleben and most congruously, four of the five Stimmungsbilder Op.9 with a double envoi of Cäcilie and – to give it its English translation - Secret Invitation. The Salome fragments show one of the besetting faults of the roll system, its inherently lumpy rhythm. It’s difficult to believe that Strauss could have played with such lumpen and effortful pianism – we know his stature as a pianist not least from a number of live broadcast performances of his songs that have been preserved.

The Dance of the Seven Veils is somewhat better in this respect but the excerpt from Feuersnot is as unconvincing an index of Strauss the pianist as is the Salome fragment. Best of all are a couple of the Stimmungsbilder – Nos. 1 and 3 in particular – Am stillen Waldespfad and the Intermezzo. Here we can feel something at least of Strauss’ eloquence, even if the results must be considered provisional. Tacet’s reproducing piano sounds to be in tune and without any off-puttingly noisy action problems – and this is by no means usual amongst roll discs of this kind.

Jonathan Woolf



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