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Twenty Great Pianists
Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982)
FALLA Ritual Fire Dance [3:22]

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1870-1941) PADEREWSKI Minuet [3:44]
Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938)
Marche Militaire No.1 [4:09]
Sergei Rachmaninov ((1873-1943) RACHMANINOV Prelude in C Sharp Minor [3:36]
Alfred Cortot (1877-1962)
Waltz No.7 [
Egon Petri (1881-1962)
arr.LISZT Erlkönig [4:33]

Myra Hess (1890-1965)
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring [
Guiomar Novaes (1895-1979)
Nocturne No.20 [
Walter Gieseking (1895-1956)
Clair de Lune [4:48]

Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991)
Arabesque [
Simon Barere (1896-1951)
Liebestraum No.3 [
Robert Casadesus (1899-1972)
FAURÉ Impromptu No.5 [1:58]

Claudio Arrau (1903-1991)
Theme & Variations [
4 :12]
Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991)
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No.8 “ Pathétique” (2nd. Movement Adagio cantabile) [
Vladimir Horowitz (1904-1989)
HOROWITZ Variations on a theme from Bizet’s “Carmen” [
Moura Lympany (1915-2005)
RACHMANINOV Prelude No.6 [2:14]
Shura Cherkassky (1911-1995)
Suggestion Diabolique [2:30]

Emil Gilels (1916-1985)
Daisies [2:20]

Alicia de Larrocha (b.1923)
Andaluza (Playera) [4 :15]

Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997)
Piano Concerto No.1 (Finale) [
rec. Original Mono recordings 1919-1954. ADD


Another fascinating collection of recordings made by some of musical history’s most renowned pianists in an audio “glimpse” of playing styles that go back almost a century. Artur Rubinstein launches the disc with Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual fire Dance”, recorded on 8 May 1947 and shows off his undisputed ability and passionate playing. This is followed by a 1926 recording of Paderewski playing his own Minuet, written in 1888, from his “Humoresques de Concert”, demonstrating elegance par excellence. From 1920 comes a performance by Leopold Godowsky of Schubert’s “Marche Militaire No.1” of 1818, arranged by Tausig for solo piano. Then the oldest recording on the disc with Rachmaninov himself playing his own Prelude in C Sharp Minor from his “5 Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op.3” of 1892. Many of his ‘recordings’ were made on piano rolls, an extremely faithful way of preserving his legacy as pianist but this one was not made that way and there is some surface noise that somewhat mars an otherwise exemplary performance but that, nevertheless, shows his formidable technique. Alfred Cortot’s renditions of Chopin are legendary and his playing of Chopin’s “Waltz No.7 in C Sharp Minor, Op.64, No.2”, recorded in 1925, shows why. Moving forward in time to 1951 we have Egon Petri playing Schubert’s “Erlkönig” in piano transcription – beautiful! Myra Hess, fondly remembered for her arranging of concerts at the National Gallery in London during World War II (despite the Blitz) plays her own arrangement of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, a recording from 1928 but sounding remarkably fresh. Brazilian pianist Guiomar Novaes was not a name I knew but I very much enjoyed her playing of Chopin’s “Nocturne No.20 in C Sharp Minor”, recorded in September 1954. It was jaw-dropping to discover she was the 17th of 19 children! Walter Gieseking was justly renowned for his effortless sounding playing of Debussy and one can hear why with his performance of “Clair de Lune” from 22 September 1951. Robert Schumann’s “Arabesque in C, Op.18” of 1838 is played by Wilhelm Kempff from 1951 and very wonderfully too. I was surprised to learn from the liner notes that despite launching his career as a pianist in 1916 he did not make his English debut until 1951 - after his Japanese debut! - and his US debut until as late as 1964, at the age of 69! Simon Barere was another name I was unfamiliar with but learned he was the eleventh of thirteen children and was taught largely by a neighbour and two of his brothers. His playing of Liszt’s “Liebestraum No.3 in A Flat” is brilliant and was recorded just a year before his untimely death in 1951 during a performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall. Robert Casadesus whips up a pianistic storm with his playing of Fauré’s “Impromptu No.5” – all over in under two minutes, but what a lot is packed into that short space of time! Another whirlwind is created by Claudio Arrau with one of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies. Rudolf Serkin is justly famous for his interpretations of Beethoven but for me his rendition of the second movement of the “Pathéthique” Sonata was achingly slow. Vladimir Horowitz is another whose playing was famous for its fireworks and his performance here of “Variations on a theme from Bizet’s Carmen” is stupendous and belies the fact that it was recorded 80 years ago. Moura Lympany hoisting the flag for Britain gives a powerful, full-blooded performance of Rachmaninov’s “Prelude No.6 in G Minor, op.23, No.6” from 1951. That maverick of the piano Shura Cherkassky, who I was fortunate enough to see playing live - characteristically without shoes! - is represented here playing Prokofiev’s “Suggestion Diabolique No.4” from his Four pieces, op. 4, recorded in 1946. This again comes over extremely well. Emil Gilels, another I was lucky to see playing in London gives a beautifully restrained performance of Rachmaninov’s “Daisies No. 3” from his Six songs, Op.38 (1916) recorded in Moscow in 1945. Alicia de Larrocha in a performance recorded in 1954 gives us Granados’s “Andaluza (Playera)” from his Twelve Dances, Op.37. She excels in this repertoire and this recording, full of expression, shows why. Sviatoslav Richter brings up the rear with the finale (allegro scherzando) from Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.1 in D Flat with Kiril Kondrashin conducting the Moscow Youth Symphony Orchestra in 1952, demonstrating for all to hear what made him such a dazzling success as a soloist around the world once the Soviet authorities permitted him to travel after 1960.

All in all these are remarkable aural documents and a must have for all piano music lovers.

Steve Arloff

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf



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