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Legends of the Piano - Acoustic Recordings 1901-24
see end of review for details
rec. 1901-24
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.112054 [79:46]

Experience Classicsonline


In addition to their big box of the A-Z of Pianists,which was an impressive document and afforded real biographical bite, Naxos has long been active in the field of the restoration of piano recordings. Some, such as their Moiseiwitsch and Cortot series, seem to develop semi-bewildering sub-titles as they develop. Others are more in the way of one-offs. Currently they are investigating Gilels and Michelangeli, amongst others. Here they turn back the clock to recordings made between 1901 and 1924. There is a kind of binary function at play here - broadly the ‘Chopin-Schumann axis and the Liszt/Leschetizky group’ as Naxos describe it.
 
Thus we have a disparate group of composer-pianists, followed by specialists, some of whom composed - and some, like Lamond, on wide canvasses. Saint-Saëns was a finger technician of the utmost clarity and brilliance. The verve and dynamism of his playing is spellbinding and scintillating. Naxos has opted for the 1919 recordings in preference to the discs he made in the very first years of the century. Nevertheless despite his increasing age there’s no let-up in the brilliance of his articulation. Grieg’s May 1903 recordings were waxed on a single day and are all of his own music.  Subtlety and clarity inform his playing which is strongly characterised, digitally pretty well immaculate and of tremendous strength. Though he had not long to live, these sides attest to his still powerful technique and an unsentimental command .He was known for his dislike of showy rubati and he demonstrates how well he practised what he wrote. We hear two of the nine sides he left. Chaminade is, as ever, free and lovely, seemingly unperturbed by the studio. I was especially glad to see that d’Indy and Granados have been included. One hears more of the latter’s piano rolls, perhaps, these days but his disc recordings offer immeasurably the more authentic experience and attest to the marvellously evocative playing of his own music - as well as Scarlatti-Granados Sonata; all three sides recorded in Barcelona c.1912. D’Indy is even less encountered in transfers which makes his brace (London, 1923) the more important. Again, he plays his own music as one would expect. The cachet is cemented by good sound form the Hayes studios. 

Eibenschütz’s records are some of the most vital and important committed to disc. Born in 1873 she studied with Clara Schumann and left behind these few, precious traces of her performing style before marriage took her away pretty much permanently from the concert hall and recording studio, albeit she did makes some duo and chamber appearances. The Brahms sides are the most important of her recordings in view of her association with the composer. He showed her the then unpublished Opp.118 and 119. Her playing of the (abridged) G minor Ballade Op.118 No.3 thus reverberates with this knowledge; it’s a very rare recording indeed and intensely important, allowing one intimate access to a performance from the immediate Brahms circle.
 
Alfred Grünfeld was a perennial favourite on 78, though his recordings don’t have a markedly high cachet today. His Viennese G&Ts have a frothy charm in the Strauss. Single recordings have been accorded to the remaining pianists. Marie Baumayer’s c.1910 disc for Union must be relatively uncommon. Aleksander Michałowski’s superb playing is represented by his 1905 Warsaw Chopin Waltz in C sharp minor. This transfer is greatly to be preferred to that on APR 5531 [The Piano G&Ts Volume 1] preserving far more colour and timbral variety even if the noise suppression of the APR promises initially to offer a smoother aural ride. There’s not so much in the Janotha [APR 5532; Piano G&Ts Volume 2], but the Naxos is a shade brighter. Lamond’s Liszt has been anthologised often enough, Friedheim’s Emerson is always worth hearing, and Koczalski is suitably heroic in his c.1924 outing. 

Other companies have also ploughed the same or similar soil, as we have seen. Marston has its Legendary Piano Records (see review) with a selection of the recordings of Grieg, Massenet, Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Louis Diémer and Raoul Pugno. APR has an extensive series of Piano G&Ts, Symposium is more focused. The Saint-Saëns and Griegs are also on Marston 52054-2 as well as APR 5533, the Chaminade is on APR 5533, the two Eibenschütz are on APR5534, the Michałowski on APR5531, the Janotha (as noted above) on APR5532, the Sapelnikoff on Pearl GEMM CD9163.
 
In pretty much all respects Naxos’s transfers (Ward Marston and Richard Warren Jr) are the field leaders, except when Marston’s own are involved, when there’s a dead heat!
 
Jonathan Woolf 

Track & performer details
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Suite algérienne, Op. 60 (excerpts) (arr. for piano)
IV. Marche militaire francaise [3:38]
III. Reverie du soir a Blidah [3:45]
Camille Saint-Saëns (piano)
Vincent D’INDY (1851-1931)
Tableaux de voyage, Op. 33 IV. Lac vert [3:02]
Poeme des montagnes, Op. 15 II. Danses rythmiques [3:46]
Vincent d'Indy (piano)
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)
La Lisonjera (The Flatterer), Op. 50 [2:46]
Cécile Chaminade (piano)
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
3 Pictures from life in the country, Op. 19: No. 2. Bridal Procession [3:00]
Lyric Pieces, Book 5, Op. 54: No. 2. Gangar (Peasant's March) [2:01]
Edvard Grieg (piano)
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Danzas espanolas, Op. 37, DLR I:2: No. 10. Danza triste [3:08]
Improvisation on El pelele, goyesca [3:02]
Piano Sonata No. 9 in G minor, DLR VI:1.9 (arr. of Scarlatti Keyboard Sonata, K.190/L.250/P.256) [2:02]
Enrique Granados (piano)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
16 Waltzes, Op. 39: No. 2 in E major - No. 15 in A flat major [2:11]
6 Piano Pieces, Op. 118: No. 3. Ballade in G minor (abridged) [2:42]
Ilona Eibenschutz (piano)
Johann STRAUSS (1825-1899)
Frühlingsstimmen (Voices of Spring), Op. 410 (arr. A. Grunfeld) [3:59]
Soiree de Vienne - Concert Paraphrase from Strauss' Waltzes from Die Fledermaus and others, Op. 56 [5:36]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K. 543: III. Menuetto (arr. J. Schulhoff for piano) [2:59]
Alfred Grünfeld (piano)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Studien fur den Pedal - Flugel (Studies for Pedal Piano), Op. 56: No. 4 in A flat major [4:06]
Marie Baumayer (piano)
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Fugue in A minor [2:20]
Natalia Janotha (piano)
Waltz No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2 [3:15]
Aleksander Michałowski (piano)
Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53, "Heroic" [6:03]
Raoul Koczalski (piano)
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
2 Morceaux, Op. 10: No. 2. Humoresque in E minor [2:32]
Vassily Sapellnikov (piano)
John BLOW (1649-1708) John BULL (c.1562-1628) William BYRD (1539-1623)
Lord Salisbury's Pavane - Fugue in C major - The King's Hunting Jygge [4:04]
Mark Hambourg (piano)
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Pieces, Book 10, Op. 71: No. 3. Puck [2:09]
Arthur de Greef (piano)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
2 Concert Etudes, S145/R6: No. 2. Gnomenreigen [3:16]
Frederic Lamond (piano)
Hungarian Rhapsodies, S244/R106: No. 2 in C sharp minor (abridged) [4:25]
Arthur Friedheim (piano) 

 


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