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Jonathan Woolf
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   Len Mullenger







Kurt Leimer (piano)
Kurt LEIMER (1920-1974)
Concerto for the left hand (1948) [26:33]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Panathenäenzug Op.74 (1927) [26:16]
Kurt Leimer (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan, recorded 1954 (Leimer)
Nuremburg Symphony Orchestra/Günter Neidlinger, rec. 1972 (Strauss)
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata in B flat minor Op.35 [20:34]
Scherzo No.1 in B minor Op.20 [8:23]
Etudes Op.10 (published 1833) [25:45]
Douze Etudes Op. 10 (à son ami Franz Liszt)
1. No. 1 in C major, allegro
2. No. 2 in A minor, allegro
3. No. 3 in E major, lento ma non troppo
4. No. 4 in C sharp minor, presto
5. No. 5 in G flat major, vivace
6. No. 6 in E flat minor, andante con molto espressione
7. No. 7 in C major, vivace
8. No. 8 in F major, allegro
9. No. 9 in F minor, allegro molto agitato
10. No. 10 in A flat major, vivace assai
11. No. 11 in E flat major, allegretto
12. No. 12 in C minor, allegro con fuoco

Etudes Op.25 (published 1837) [28:09]
12 Etudes Op. 25 (A Madame la Comtesse d'Agoult)
13. No. 1 in A flat major, allegro sostenuto
14. No. 2 in F minor, presto
15. No. 3 in F major, allegro
16. No. 4 in A minor, agitato
17. No. 5 in E minor, vivace
18. No. 6 in G sharp minor, allegro
19. No. 7 in C sharp minor, lento
20. No. 8 in D flat major, vivace assai
21. No. 9 in G flat major, allegro assai
22. No. 10 in B minor, allegro con fuoco
23. No. 11 in A minor, allegro con brio
24. No. 12 in C minor, allegro molto con fuoco

Kurt Leimer (piano)
rec. 1969 (Sonata); 1960 (Scherzo); 1962 (Etudes)
COLOSSEUM CLASSICS COL 9201.2 [55:17 + 29:01]

Kurt Leimer was born in Wiesbaden in 1920 and studied in Berlin with Winfried Wolf. A later scholarship took him to Edwin Fischer, though his career was halted by the War during which he was drafted and subsequently taken as a prisoner of war. A pianist but also a composer his works saw prestigious outings under such as von Karajan and Stokowski - who performed Leimer’s Fourth Piano Concerto in Carnegie Hall. Despite a busy concert diary he became director of the Salzburg Mozarteum in 1953 where he remained until his sadly premature death in 1974. The Foundation named in his honour and memory organises an international piano competition every two years. It has also now collaborated with Colosseum to produce three discs of Leimer’s performances; a single, containing concerto and concertante works and a two disc set devoted to Leimer’s 1960s Chopin recordings.

Let’s address the Chopin question first because whilst these are welcome restorations to the catalogue their broader appeal will be limited. The recordings were recorded very closely indeed. Partly this is the reason why dynamic variance is so seldom really engendered but it can’t be the whole reason. Leimer’s Chopin is seen through a microscope. It’s playing of digital clarity, always keen to bring out polyphonic lines but very cool. To those brought up on Franco-Polish performances Leimer will seem, I think, almost perversely non-committal. He has a tendency to caricature left-hand accents and beats and often seems rhythmically behind the beat. Technically he seems unstressed though the contrary motion passage in Op.10’s E minor is a touch harried. Throughout one feels that his own perceptions of Chopin – odd voicings, accenting, an unwillingness to characterise or to provide expressive moments – are a straight jacket. 

The Sonata is similarly inert in terms of expression. Leimer does not value or promote a singing tone and though he takes the central panel of the slow movement very slowly it doesn’t sound particularly expressive. These are performances of almost studied disassociation – revealing of temperament and attitude but strangely passive.

The concerto disc is much different. Leimer’s astounding smorgasbord of a left-hand concerto is something of a riot, given his imperiously detached view of Chopin. If one was expecting a dash of Hindemith and maybe Bergian associations, prepare to think again. Von Karajan took up this concerto in London and Vienna and recorded it with the Philharmonia. What they made of it one can only imagine but they all pitch in with gusto. Some Viennese critic apparently dismissed it as “bar room music and bogus romanticism” when it was premiered there in 1953. Leimer seems to have imbibed a strong dose of Rachmaninov – via his one-time mentor Gieseking one wonders? – and then put it on the boil with a pinch of Ravel, a dab of Schulhoff and a whole heap of Gershwin. The result may have outraged the snooty burghers of Vienna, but then what doesn’t.

Other features to stir the limbs are the dance-band muted trumpets, the Addinsell strings, Paganini Rhapsody piano figuration, American in Paris bluster, Rhapsody in Blue drama, jazzy ironmongery and at the climax the amazing sound of left hand Boogie Woogie. It sounds to me that this is the product of immense relief after the traumas of war and imprisonment and release. Leimer apparently witnessed a fellow prisoner lose an arm to an exploding grenade – which makes the insouciance and almost wilful magpie quality of the music all the more suggestive.

If Strauss was a magpie in Panathenäenzug than he only stole from himself. This concerto for the left hand was another work written for Paul Wittgenstein, who premiered it with Bruno Walter in 1928. It was almost immediately dropped and it was Leimer who unearthed it, earning Strauss’s gratitude. Leimer played it for Strauss who then bestowed sole performance rights for three years on the pianist. In 1947 it was dedicated to Leimer and in 1972 he finally recorded it. It has a rich fabric from the sway and the opening ostinato onwards. In Leimer’s hands moments of Schubertian lyricism are alluded to but not overstressed. But it too has strong Rachmaninov inflexions and touches of Elektra – less so Rosenkavalier. It’s a bewildering work in some ways but played with tremendous structural awareness by Leimer and the orchestral forces of the Nuremburg Symphony Orchestra under Günter Neidlinger.

These are excellently restored performances, though there were clearly some intractable master tape problems in respect of the Chopin sessions. Documentation is authoritative and the Foundation’s work is important. Leimer is now a forgotten talent both as executant and composer so these releases may help in righting one of these perennial wrongs.

Jonathan Woolf


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