The Art of Géza Anda
CD 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Variations (33) for Piano on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120: no 8, recorded 1961 [38.40]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata for Piano in B flat major, D 960, recorded 1963 [36.58]
CD 2

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Preludes (24) for Piano, Op. 28, recorded 1959 [37.14]
Polonaise for Piano in A flat major, B 147/Op. 53 "Heroic" recorded 1959 [6.51]
Etudes (12) for Piano, Op. 25: no 5 in E minor, recorded 1943 [4.32]
Mazurkas (4) for Piano, Op. 67: no 4 in A minor, B 163, recorded 1943 [2.38]
Mazurkas (4) for Piano, Op. 68: no 2 in A minor, B 18, recorded 1943 [1.43]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Mephisto Waltz [10:46]
Transcendental Etudes (6) after Paganini, S 140: no 3 "La Campanella" arranged BUSONI, recorded 1942 [4.20]
Concert Etudes (2) for Piano, S 145: no 1, Waldesrauschen, recorded 1966 [3.36]
CD 3

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kreisleriana, Op. 16, recorded 1966 [27.32]
Davidsbündlertänze for Piano, Op. 6, recorded 1966 [29.39]
CD 4
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasia for Piano in C major, Op. 17, recorded 1963 [27.38]
Symphonic Etudes for Piano (1837 revised 1852) Op. 13, recorded 1943 [18.25]
Symphonic Etudes for Piano, Op. 13, recorded 1963 [22.22]
Géza Anda (piano)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93795 [4 CDs: 74:50 + 70:32 + 57:27 + 73:57]

It’s 2005. You’re an Anda admirer. You notice that DG is bringing out a fulsome 5 CD retrospective. There’s nothing devastatingly out of the way there, but the solo and concerto box does house the 1943 Schumann Symphonic Etudes recording as well as the more familiar 1963 stereo remake. We also have the totemic Brahms Second Concerto traversal and Bartók’s Rhapsody, both with Ferenc Fricsay; the latter in fairness actually not one of the more familiar recordings of the composer’s music. There’s also the Franck Symphonic Variations with van Beinum and the Schumann Concerto with Kubelik. You decide to buy. Your transaction is approved. It’s now sitting on your overstuffed shelves.

It’s now 2010. You’re scanning the new releases. You see another Anda box, 4 CDs this time, from Brilliant. It looks familiar; very familiar. In fact however on closer inspection you note the following; all the concerto or concertante recordings have now been excised, leaving an all-solo box. The remasterings are the same. Jeremy Siepmann’s booklet notes have been retained though the booklet photographs have gone. The CD running order has been rejigged a little to accommodate the new stripped-back line up. Otherwise though things are unchanged.

Licensing agreements mean that the rehoused Anda box, now reformatted to accommodate his all-solo self, can have extended shelf life. The parent company clearly feels this is a necessary arrangement. I have already reviewed the DG box so what follows is a repeat performance, suitably edited.

Anda retrospectives continue to prove salutary. Testament has devoted a number of important re-releases to him, and there is fortunately not much duplication between them and this DG boxed set of five discs - Kreisleriana and the later Symphonic Etudes. The kernel of this set is Schumann and Chopin and the famous recordings of the Diabelli variations, a Schubert sonata and in some Liszt recorded at various times during his career.

Turning to his Schumann we are fortunate to have his Kreisleriana from 1966. This is a deft, subtly inflected and very characterful reading. Diminuendi irradiate the opening whilst (2) is elegant yet forward moving. (5) is crystalline and light of texture and the Sehr Langsam (6) gains in cumulative weight and sonority. The Fantasia is a slightly earlier recording, taped in Berlin, and one that possesses a controlled directness of approach and an especially powerful middle movement albeit one that possesses an unusually sensitive contrastive central section. The all-Schumann disc is completed by the 1963 Symphonic Etudes. Fascinating comparisons can be set up between this taping and the wartime recording on 78 also made in Berlin in the Polydor studios. The first recording, made when he was in his very early twenties, is that much more impetuous; speeds are pushed that bit harder, corners turned with a greater sense of youthful zest. That said I prefer the more refined temper of the later traversal - listen to the exquisite left hand voicings in Etude III or the drivingly witty sixth, much less the superiority of his treble sonorities cultivated in Variation V. The finale is delightfully warm even though the youthful Anda was that much more incisive and driving.

The Davidsbündler is another winning example of Anda’s way with the composer. Listen to the real legato delicacy of No.2, the drama and fire of No.4, and the sheer dynamism of No.8. Then again No.13 has splendidly controlled rhythm and bass etching and 14. has a caressing lullaby beauty.

The Diabelli variations date from a Lucerne session in 1961. As much as the faster variations go so well, Anda explores the slower more intimate ones with sagacity and tonal nuance. He’s alive to the pomposo march of the first variation as much as the sheer dynamism of the fifth or indeed the pawky and earthy humour of the ninth. Nor does he stint the touching lyricism of twenty-nine which he explores with especial sensitivity. There is an example of his Schubert as well - the sonata in B flat major D960, moderate in tempo but plentiful in colour, and also tempo modifications, this is a personalised but in many ways convincing reading - though not everyone will be convinced it has to be said. There’s sufficient tonal amplitude and depth in the slow movement, and it’s not over-emotive, but the scherzo is rather slow in the trio section. The finale is buoyant and graceful.  
The Chopin Preludes are winning if not necessarily at the topmost echelon. The fourth is just a touch conventional and lacks the last ounce of feeling. The eighth has great clarity and rhythmic impetus, the fifteenth again a touch sec, the seventeenth sports fine left hand pointing, the twenty-first dynamic shading of a high order and so on. The good very much outweighs the more idiosyncratic. There’s also a genuinely terpsichorean Polonaise (from 1959) with not too much pedal but a strange blip (missed note? bad edit?) along the way. There are three other Chopin pieces from 1943 but with rather high residual shellac noise.

Altogether this is a worthy tribute to Anda. Not only that but it’s valuable in its sweep and in its selection priorities, in its transfer skill and in astutely giving the collector a consolidated collection of real musical value. The poetry and the power can be heard throughout; as much as he was a troubadour he was surely every bit as much the poet.

Jonathan Woolf