Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Barcarolle in F sharp Op.60 two recordings [7:52]
Polonaise No.9 in B flat Op.71 No.2 [5:24]
Nocturne No. 2 in E flat Op.9 No.2 [4:30]
Nocturne No.19 in E minor Op.72 No.1 [4:15]
Scherzo No.1 in B minor Op.20 [8:44]
Scherzo No.3 in C sharp minor Op.39 [7:03]
Scherzo No.4 in E Op.54 [9:14]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Scherzo arranged by Sergei Rachmaninoff [4:17]
Benno Moiseiwitsch (piano)
rec. Abbey Road, London 1939-52
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110770 [59:16]

This extensive series has developed a sub-genre of discs devoted to Moiseiwitsch’s Chopin recordings, hence the rather unwieldy disc title. It’s the thirteenth volume in Naxos’s laudable restorations and the third in the Chopin series.

The performances were recorded between 1939 and 1952 and enshrine the pianist’s elevated poeticism in abundance. The fabled burnish of his tone was well captured by the engineers of the time and has been equally well presented in these transfers. A comparison with APR’s series [5575, which contains the E flat Nocturne, and 5576 which contains five others] is strongly in Naxos and Ward Marston’s favour. Not only did APR employ a greater level of noise reduction, but also there’s greater clarity in Naxos’s work which ensures that the luminosity of the pianist’s tone is honoured.

The performances themselves delight in his often wicked turns of phrase, that patrician, unruffled exterior harbouring a phalanx of devices that vest the playing with such personality and allure. He’s certainly not above a few textual emendations, but these are all put to delightful use, and if Edwin Fischer can engage in bass octave doubling in the Well Tempered Clavier, I’m sure the same generosity of spirit can be extended to his Russian contemporary.

The Barcarolle in F sharp can be heard in two performances. The first was not issued on 78 and has a small degree of surface noise but is eminently listenable. There are small difference of phrasal emphases between this and the released 1941 version, and one of the pleasures of listening lies in contrasting them. He’d recorded the B flat Polonaise in 1927 and his performance remains a fulcrum of fluidity and colour. The pealing roundness of his tone can be savoured in the E flat Nocturne. It’s a matter of regret that in his September 1949 sessions he only recorded three of the Scherzi, omitting No.2, but the three that he did set down are marvellously evocative. The Fourth, in E, has a Rachmaninovian directness of purpose, total tonal congruity and flexibility that mark out only the very finest of players. It’s notable that he is consistently faster than Rubinstein’s 1959 traversals, albeit Moisewitsch was the younger performer at the time of their respective recordings; they were near contemporaries. This disc also makes room for one of the pianist’s most famous discs, A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Scherzo, arranged by Sergei Rachmaninoff, and played with magnificent felicity.

Given the repertoire and the superior transfers, no lover of the Russian pianist’s bewitching art should neglect at least some of this first-class series.

Jonathan Woolf

Given the repertoire and the superior transfers, no lover of the Russian pianist’s bewitching art should neglect at least some of this first-class series.