but one of these performances were recorded for RCA in 1972
and then set on one side, unissued and unremembered until Jon
M. Samuels found them by chance. The Tannhäuser Overture was
a one-off which Bolet offered spontaneously at the end of a
session taping works by Rachmaninov, and again was set aside
(in all truth it’s not always technically clean so Bolet himself
may have vetoed it).
performances therefore stand midway between those sometimes
staid and unexciting performances of Bolet’s late Decca period,
which are what most people know him by, and those of the firebrand
cult-figure of his earlier years spent away from the limelight
and only tenuously documented.
the Liebestraum begins sombrely though sensitively, succumbing
to a splurge of grand pianism in the middle, while Gnomenreigen
begins almost indifferently, the pianist apparently only interested
in the music when it is loud. The melodic lines of Un Sospiro
are very nicely drawn and, if Waldesrauchen hardly evokes woodland
magic it is again well sung. Funérailles is remarkably short
of blistering tension in its opening stages – again Bolet seems
more engaged when the technical difficulties and the decibels
begin to pile up. The bell strikes very dryly at the beginning
of La Campanella (the pedal-markings in my Peters Edition edited
by Sauer may not be Liszt’s own but surely a spot of pedal is
wanted?); it is all remarkably clear and indeed contains much
remarkable pianism but only the last page seems fully engaged
and Bolet never makes me gasp with sheer amazement the way Ignaz
Friedman (for one) does. The Grand Galop chromatique is a lusty
affair and the Spanish Rhapsody gets up plenty of barnstorming
panache. Meditating on why I was left so unmoved, I think Bolet
(and maybe the recording engineers too) is neglecting the instructions
Richard Strauss once gave to an orchestra: “Gentlemen, you are
giving me all the notes; give me an impression of my music”.
Somehow it all seems a bit short on fantasy and sleight of hand,
things which may paradoxically come more easily to a pianist
with less sure-fire technical equipment.
for Tannhäuser, if we imagine for a moment the present performance
transported to the orchestra, where no great technical difficulties
are involved, we would surely dismiss it as a rather heavy and
bandmasterly affair; we would certainly take a poor view of
a bandmaster who found such little magic in the entry of the
Venusberg music or in the subsequent return of the Pilgrim’s
Chorus at the end.
kept this disc to almost the last in this particular batch sent
for review, promising myself a treat. I’m sorry it didn’t work
out that way. Jon M. Samuels presents the case for the defence
in the booklet and admirers of this pianist should note that
he made no other commercial recording of the Spanish Rhapsody.