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Eugen d’Albert - The Centaur Pianist; complete studio recordings: 1910-28
Odeon recordings, c. 1910-1912. Bechstein piano:

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Marche Militaire arranged Tausig [3.50]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Capriccio, in b, Op. 76/2 [3.59]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53 (abbr.) [4.06]
Waltz in A flat, Op. 42 [3.03]
Eugen D’ALBERT (1864-1932)

Suite Op 1: Gavotte and Musette [3.46]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Invitation to the Dance [4.15]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Etude in f, Op. 25/2 [2.28]
Etude in G flat, Op. 25/9 [1.43]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Au bord d'une source [3.50]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Ecossaises arranged d’Albert [3.57]
Eugen D’ALBERT (1864-1932)

Scherzo in F sharp, Op. 16/2 [3.47]
Grammophon recordings c. 1918-1922. Steinway piano:
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Andante Favori [5.10]
Bagatelle: Rage Over a Lost Penny, Op. 129 [4.27]
Sonata in C, Op. 53: Rondo [5.11]
Sonata in E flat, Op. 31/3: Scherzo [3.16]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Waltz in c sharp, Op. 64/2 [2.23]
Etude in G flat, Op. 25/9 [1.03]
Eugen D’ALBERT (1864-1932)
Capriolen, Op. 32/2, 4, 5 [3.27]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Estampes: Jardins sous la pluie [2.58]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Mediterranean [2.22]
Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)

Kaleidoscope, Op 18/6 and The Punch and Judy Show [1.12]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Berceuse [3.17]
Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53 (abbr.) [4.28]
Grammophon recordings c. 1916-1922
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Nocturne in F sharp, Op. 15/2 [3.07]
Waltz in A flat. Op.42 [3.33]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptus Op. 142/3 & 4 [3.42]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Sonata in A, K. 331: Rondo alla Turca [3.44]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Au bord d'une source [3.36]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Ecossaises arranged d’Albert [2.20]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Impromptu in B flat Op.142/3 [4.11]
Eugen D’ALBERT (1864-1932)
Suite Op 1: Gavotte and Musette [3.01]
Die Toten Augen: Myrtocle's aria [3.02]
Scherzo in F sharp Op.16/2 [2.16]
German Vox, recorded c. 1923 Steinway piano
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Etude in G flat, Op. 25/9 [2.37]
Waltz in c sharp, Op. 64/2 [3.34]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Minuet Arranged Sauberger [4.21]
Eugen D’ALBERT (1864-1932)

Suite Op. 1: Gavotte and Musette [3.10]
Emil von SAUER (1862-1942)
Spieluhr [2.58]
Teresa CARREÑO (1853-1917)

Kleine Walzer [3.11]]
German Odeon, recorded on 13 October 1923
with Andreas Weissgerber (violin)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in C, K.296: Andante Sostenuto [3.40]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata in F, Op. 24: Scherzo, Rondo [3.45]
Parlophone recording c. 1928; with Gotthelf Pistor, tenor, d'Albert conducting the Grosse Opernorchester, Staatskapelle, Berlin,
Eugen D’ALBERT (1864-1932)
Tiefland: Zwischenspiel; Schau bei, das ist ein Taler [6.21]
alternative takes:
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Sonata in C, K.296: Andante Sostenuto [3.42]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Marche Militaire Arranged Tausig [3.41]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Invitation to the Dance [4.11]
Eugen d’Albert (piano)
accompaniments, if any, as above
rec. 1910-28
ARBITER 147 [78.35 + 78.28]

 

I’m not aware that the entire corpus of d’Albert’s commercial recordings has ever before been available in one place. The vast majority are of solo piano works but there are some sides where d’Albert acts as sonata partner to violinist Andreas Weissgerber and some on which he conducts. As an appendix there are also three alternative takes. It all adds up to a comprehensive and magnificent, essential collection. Clearly no one interested in the history of the piano on record will be able to do without it.

Superlatives over, where can one go? Well, listening to splendidly transferred discs such as these – all of the solo and chamber works are acoustic, the orchestral early electric – allows one the pleasure of being able, to an extent, to refute some of wilder and more condemnatory comments made about d’Albert’s pianism over the years. The existence of so many repeat performances – he was asked to re-record a number of the same works – also gives us a vista into his subtly changeable approaches. The d’Albert Scherzo was recorded three times and several other pieces make re-appearances over the span of the twelve years he spent in the recording studios.

The Brahms Capriccio is the only tantalising evidence of his playing of a composer with whom he was on familiar terms and whose concertos he performed to such acclaim. Similarly he only recorded one piece by Liszt – Au bord d’une source, both for Odeon and later on for Grammophon, which is all the more frustrating as he began working with Liszt in 1882.

Throughout these sides there are certainly accidents, both digital and rhythmic, and as one must always note truncation was very much the order of day in the studios so that abridgements and excisions are commonplace – one of the worst hit is the Chopin Polonaise, though it’s otherwise played with brio and ebullience.

His articulation in the Beethoven Sonata Rondo Op.53 is powerful both in the treble and in the leonine chording – there’s a touch of blasting but as with the majority of these copies it sounds in fine estate. The evidence of his status as a Beethoven player is rather cloudy and the recordings don’t really resolve the issue. Gruffness and wit are certainly present though the recording compromises of the day mean that tempi were pushed - see the Andante favori. Elsewhere it’s always been amusing, given his extreme antipathy to the country of his birth, that d’Albert not only programmed but actually recorded the works of two emergent British lions, Bax and Goossens. The Goossens pieces are bisected by applause and hilarious laughter, a rather remarkable example of recording informality.

The F sharp Chopin Nocturne is played rather "straight." It’s not subject to whimsy or to metrical displacements albeit does sound rather rigid. In the main his Grammophon remakes are less immediately impressive than the earlier recordings for Odeon and less well recorded. It applies in particular to the Chopin A flat waltz – disappointing after the c.1910 recording, one of the first d’Albert ever committed to wax. Still the Grammophon Schubert Impromptu in F minor is intensely exciting, and his own Myrtocle's aria from Die Toten Augen is gloriously late romantic in impress. Interesting too to hear him essay the light Spieluhr of a putative competitor, von Sauer, and the Kleine Waltz by one of d’Albert’s many wives, the fiery and brilliant Carreño.

We also hear him, as noted, as chamber collaborator with Andreas Weissgerber. The violinist, much younger, has an old fashioned cast to his playing – a slack Hubay vibrato and a rather deadpan delivery. Together they both comprehensively miss the wit of the Spring Sonata’s Scherzo. Collectors will be keen to note however that one of their alternative takes has survived and is presented here; it’s almost identical to the published take.

As to transfers there’s a partial competitor in the form of Symposium1146. That, however, is somewhat anomalous in containing the 1930 performance of the first movement of the Emperor Concerto, a live survival and reason enough to need the Symposium independent of the eighteen commercial discs that replicate the Arbiter. Otherwise the Arbiter is in a different league. There are minimal scratches and clicks and bumps. The Arbiter sound is much more immediate, pitch has been stabilised and though surface noise is ever-present it’s not intrusive; d’Albert’s tonal qualities emerge unhindered.

There are fine and interesting notes, with an evocative personal reminiscence by Paul Roës; and well-produced reproductions of surviving concert programmes. Matrix and issue numbers are all present. I really can’t imagine it being better done than this.

Jonathan Woolf

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