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Vlado Perlemuter (1904 - 2002)

 

The Nimbus Recordings

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I’ve had the opportunity to listen for the first time, or in some cases again, to Vlado Perlemuter’s entire legacy on Nimbus. These recordings vary in date and in location; the majority derive from sessions at Wyastone Leys but some were also taped in Birmingham studios. The sound quality of these performances, from 1974 to digital as it were, has often been noted and calls for a brief comment from me. It is certainly the case that the rather swimmy acoustic is a prominent and really rather unwelcome feature of a number of the discs. However I wouldn’t want to allow this demerit to overshadow the quality of the performances. These too vary. The late recordings do show digital frailties, but Perlemuter was in his late eighties, and technical perfection, if such a thing exists, is hardly the Alpha and Omega in the appreciation of the art of so distinguished a musician. He was up to the challenges of most the repertory, most of the time. Chopin occupies the bulk of these discs but I would also direct you to the Ravel recordings which are consistently illuminating, exceptionally well played, and historically important.
 
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Thème et Variations Op.73 (1897) [14:03]
Nocturnes Nos. 1-13 (published 1882-1921); No.1 Op.33 No.1 [6:17]: No.6 Op.63 [7:58]; No.7 Op.74 [7:48]; No.12 Op.107 [5:44]; No.13 Op.119 [6:44]
Impromptus; No.2 in F minor Op.31 [4:00]: No.5 in F sharp minor Op.102 [2:25]
Barcarolle No.5 in F sharp minor Op.66 [6:00]
Vlado Perlemuter (piano)
rec. March and September 1982, Wyastone Leys
NIMBUS NI 5165 [61:04]

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His Fauré is a delight. There is a noble dignity to his Thème et Variations which is neither as fast as Kathleen Long nor as spacious as Germaine Thyssens-Valentin, to take two pianists of the older generation who were flourishing in the 1940s and 1950s when Perlemuter was a younger man. The occasional finger slips are more than compensated for by virtue of his sense of line, texture and sonority. The First Nocturne reveals a template of his playing as a whole – unmannered directness devoid of extraneous romanticised gestures but revealing a sure awareness of the structural implications of the writing and its expressive potential. He keeps the left hand rocking in the Sixth, in D, ensuring the melody line remains spruce and uncluttered. This playing probably didn’t find favour with those who preferred a more malleable and obvious gestural response but Perlemuter’s way here is to highlight melodic highs and refuse to homogenise the textures. He is never bland and never boring. So, yes, the Seventh Nocturne may seem terse and unreflective but it has its own rewards and stance. The Twelfth has breathless momentum leavened by assured rubati. Pedalling is equally brisk. The Second Impromptu is rightly playful and the Fifth Barcarolle has great brio, and is taken at a perfect tempo (Thyssens-Valentin and Collard variously agree in their recordings).

 


 
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Quintet in E flat for piano and wind Op.16 (1796) [26:49]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Quintet in E flat for piano and wind K452 (1784) [25:47]
Vlado Perlemuter (piano)
The Albion Ensemble
rec. June 1981, Wyastone Leys
NIMBUS NI5157 [53:35]

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Perlemuter joined with members of The Albion Ensemble for this unusual offering. It was the only chamber recording he made with Nimbus. The ensemble was George Caird (oboe), Andrew Marriner (clarinet), Jeremy Ward (bassoon) and Robin Martin (horn). The playing here is relaxed, genial. Phrasing in the Beethoven is unostentatious, and the heart of the Quintet, its slow movement, is especially appealing in its measured generosity. The ensemble is fine in the finale. In the Mozart we have more evidence of a solid ensemble alliance and of leisurely refinement once again. Neither of these readings is the most obviously exciting on disc, but one can certainly enjoy the technical accomplishment and the slightly self-effacing quality of the music-making.


 
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Etudes, Op. 10
No. 1 in C (Allegro) [2.23]
No. 2 in A minor (Allegro) [1.42]
No. 3 in E (Lento ma non troppo) [4.09]
No. 4 in C sharp minor (Presto) [.30]
No. 5 in G flat (Vivace) [1.59]
No. 6 in E flat minor (Andante)[3.19]
No. 7 in C (Vivace)[1.45]
No. 8 in F (Allegro)[2.51]
No. 9 in F minor (Allegro molto agitato) [2.13]
No. 10 in A flat (Vivace assai) [2.32]
No. 11 in E flat (Allegretto) [2.27]
No. 12 in C minor (Allegro con fuoco) [2.53]
Etudes, Op. 25
No. 1 in A flat (Allegro sostenuto) [2.26]
No. 2 in F minor (Presto) [1.39]
No. 3 in F (Allegro) [2.08]
No. 4 in A minor (Agitato) [1.45]
No. 5 in E minor (Vivace) [3.29]
No. 6 in G sharp minor (Allegro) [2.14]
No. 7 in C sharp minor (Lento) [4.50]
No. 8 in D flat (Vivace legato) [1.17]
No. 9 in G flat (Allegro vivace) [1.07]
No. 10 in B minor (Allegro con fuoco) [4.09]
No. 11 in A minor (Lento) [4.02]
No. 12 in C minor (Allegro molto, con fuoco) [2.58]
Trois nouvelles etudes
No. 1 in F minor (Andantino) [1.58]
No. 2 in D flat (allegretto) [1.57]
No. 3 in A flat (Allegretto) [1.47]
rec. tracks 1-12 and 25-27 on 28 and 29 March, 1983. Tracks 13-24 on 8 and 9 June, 1982 at Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
NIMBUS NI 5095 [68:29]

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Perlemuter’s Chopin represents by far the most extensive part of his Nimbus discography. It’s also the repertoire by which, one assumes, posterity will best remember him, though my own view is that his Ravel recordings are in a way more candid evidence of his musicianship, and were, moreover, made earlier so better preserve his virtuosic and digitally elevated musicianship at its late peak. There are individual Chopin discs, and a 6 CD boxed set which consolidates all his recordings for the company. His Etudes vary in tempo decisions. The first two of the Op.10 set are quite deliberate whereas the third, in E, is up to tempo, its contrary motion octaves dispatched with authority. There is an unhurried nobility about the fifth, though No.7 can seem somewhat impersonal. The Op.25 set sports a finely poetic A flat, and a direct, affecting (within his limits) C sharp minor. There’s marvellous pointing and a sense of colour in the – again – deliberately phrased G flat.

 


 
Nocturnes
Op. 9 No. 3 in B major [5.39]
Op. 15 No. 1 in F major [4.14]
Op. 15 No. 2 in F sharp major [3.36]
Op. 15 No. 3 in G minor [4.51]
Op. 27 No. 1 in C sharp minor [4.55]
Op. 27 No. 2 in D flat major [4.54]
Op. 48 No. 1 in C minor [5.18]
Op. 48 No. 2 in F sharp minor [6.32]
Op. 55 No. 2 in E flat major [4.29]
Op. 62 No. 1 in E major [4.57]
rec. 28-29 January 1984, Nimbus Studios, Wyastone Leys
NIMBUS NI 5012 [50:07]

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This selection of Nocturnes reveals Perlemuter’s aesthetic to be decidedly different from his teacher Cortot, and indeed such as, say, Rubinstein or Moravec. The sense of directness established by his Fauré Nocturne recordings is apparent here too. This can be heard not merely in linear directness but in a gimlet, directional approach that eschews decorative sensibilities. Thus his Op.9 No.3 is fast, almost terse. He lashes into the central panel of Op.15 No.1 with vehemence, and there is natural authority, clarity and subtle nuance in its Op. companion in F sharp minor. His D flat major (Op.27 No.2) is lit by colour shading, pellucid runs and a refined tonal palette. His Op.62 No.1 is extremely fast and will sound brusque to those weaned on the pianists noted above.

 


 
Scherzo No. 3 in C sharp minor, Op. 39 [8.20]
Mazurka in A minor, Op. 59 No. 1 [3.48]
Mazurka in A flat, Op. 59 No. 2 [2.38]
Mazurka in F sharp minor, Op. 59 No. 3 [4.02]
Mazurka in B, Op. 63 No. 1 [2.23]
Mazurka in F minor, Op. 63 No. 2 [2.03]
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 63 No. 3 [2.03]
Mazurka in C, Op. 24 No. 2 [3.00]
Mazurka in B minor, Op. 33 No. 4 [5.00]
Mazurka in E minor, Op. 41 No. 1 [2.41]
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 41 No. 4 [3.48]
Mazurka in C, Op. 56 No. 2 [1.45]
Mazurka in C minor, Op. 56 No. 3 [6.10]
Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68 No. 4 [2.03]
Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17 No. 4 [4.08]
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 30 No. 4 [3.55]
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 50 No. 3 [5.00]
Tarantelle in A flat, Op. 43 [3.41]
rec. Track 1 on 9 October 1990, Tracks 2-14 on 1-3 July 1992, Tracks 15-17 on 21/22 May 1986, Track 18 on 29 March 1983 at Wyastone Leys, Monmouth.
NIMBUS NI 5393 [66:33]

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His Third Scherzo doesn’t have the fleetness or grand seigniorial sense of fantasy of, say, Moiseiwitsch, whose mature 1949 recording is considerably quicker but also more inimitable than Perlemuter’s own. The Mazurkas are an intriguing case study. I find them decidedly straight, as if he were involved on a demystifying quest. Op.59 No.1 is too cut and dried, Op.63 No.2 is tonally quite hard, up to tempo, but uningratiating. Op.68 No.4 is unruffled, unaffected, unindulgent, rather matter of fact. Throughout, in these works, his aesthetic is decidedly individualistic and uncompromising, refusing to countenance intimacies or too many inflexions.

 


 
24 Preludes Op. 28
C major [0.36]
A minor [1.39]
G major [1.07]
E minor [1.36]
D major [0.39]
B minor [1.53]
A major [0.49]
F sharp minor [2.00]
E major [1.27]
C sharp minor [0.38]
B major [0.43]
G sharp minor [1.16]
F sharp major [2.59]
E flat minor [0.37]
D flat major [4.46]
B flat minor [1.20]
A flat major [3.15]
F minor [0.59]
E flat major [1.31]
C minor [1.42]
B flat major [2.16]
G minor [0.53]
F major [1.04]
D minor [2.35]
Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 45 [3.45]
Fantasy in F minor Op. 49 [12.35]
Berceuse Op. 57 [4.26]
rec. Preludes: March 1981 (Analogue Recording). Fantasy and Berceuse: March 1982 (Digital Recording) at Wyastone Leys
NIMBUS NI5064 [59:10]

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Here we find Perlemuter at his most consistent, his most consonant and his most intriguing. He’s strong, virile when necessary and he avoids any externalised romantic show. His Preludes have an integrity about them which is not granitic but which impresses through sheer authority. That said, his technique is not what it was, and unsympathetic auditors will find some of these performances too clinical in detail and too cool in feeling.

 


 
Ballade No.1 in G minor Op.23 [9:10]
Ballade No.2 in F Op.38 [7:32]
Ballade No.3 in A flat Op.47 [7:24]
Ballade No.4 in F minor Op.52 [10:42]
Polonaise in F sharp minor Op.44 [10:37]
Polonaise-Fantasie in A flat Op.61 [11:46]
rec. 1977 and 1983 at Wyastone Leys
NIMBUS NI 5209 [57:11]

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His Ballades offer a consistently more engaging balance between expression and hauteur. Despite a few trivial slips, the G minor is characterful and richly engrossing, and the equality of free-wheeling drama and introspection embedded in the Second in F is purposefully realised. The third Ballade is very fine indeed and the Fourth, if anything, finer still in its sense of lyrical expression and narrative drama. The Polonaises offer virtuosic flair. I might be inclined to recommend this disc first to a newcomer to his Chopin recordings. It is conspicuously intelligent playing, tonally rich, musically elevated, wholly rewarding.

 


 
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor Op.35 [24:36]
Piano Sonata in B minor Op.58 [25:24]
Barcarolle Op.60 [7:48]
rec. January 1974, Nimbus Studios, Birmingham and 8 March 1982 (Barcarolle), Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
NIMBUS NI 5038 [58:16]



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This is an august pairing that shows Perlemuter to have retained his fabled digital finesse well into the 1970s and beyond, though his playing in 1974 is clearly and I think demonstrably superior. Fortunately both sonatas were taped in 1974. The B minor is captivating in its sectional control, tonal sophistication and sense of characterisation. If it doesn’t aim at the highest level of emotional involvement, then that was Perlemuter’s way. The companion B flat minor [No.2] is a powerful study in contrasts, with tonal beauty, a stratified sense of colour and a profoundly moving funeral march at its heart.

 


 
Chopin Boxed set
NIMBUS NI 1764 [6 CDs – contains all Chopin performances as above, boxed]





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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
CD1
Noctuelles [4.45]
Oiseaux tristes [3.47]
Une Barque sur l'Océan [6.34]
Alborada del gracioso [6.24]
Vallée des cloches [5.03]
Jeux d'eau [5.32]
Pavane pour une Infante défunte [5.29]
Gaspard de la Nuit
Ondine [6.30]
Le gibet [6.15]
Scarbo [9.01]
CD2
Sonatine [11:22]
Valses Nobles et Sentimentales [14:07]
Le Tombeau de Couperin
Prélude [3.00]
Fugue [3.20]
Forlane [5.54]
Rigaudon [3.20]
Menuet [5.00]
Toccata [4.02]
Prélude [1.35]
A la Manière de Borodine [1.51]
A la Manière de Chabrier [1.56]
Menuet Antique [6.24]
Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn [2.07]
rec. 26 July-2 August 1973, Nimbus Studios, Birmingham
NIMBUS NI 7713/14 [59:20 + 64:12]

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As noted elsewhere I’m convinced that Perlemuter’s Ravel is the best of him in these Nimbus recordings, more even than the raft of Chopin performances. Miroirs is a delight; Noctuelles is full of evocative precision, and the poetic sensitivity he evinces is propelled with unselfconscious control in these early, 1973 recordings made in the studio. Textual control radiates outwards from these traversals. As for Gaspard there’s a total lack of fuss in Ondine – but the avoidance of artifice is a function of the poetic hauteur that gives such meaning to his playing. His Sonatine is crisp, the Valses animated by an especially witty Vif whilst Le Tombeau de Couperin moves with grace and deft accentuation, a notch slower than the BBC 1970 broadcast that has circulated. Seeking an analogue, this is the kind of pointillist playing George Copeland brought to Debussy, in contradistinction to Gieseking’s Turneresque wash; both wonderful but both very different. Perlemuter’s Ravel is a breath of fresh air.

 



Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 'Waldstein' [25:57]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Scherzo No. 3 in C sharp minor, Op. 39 [8.21]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Variations Sérieuses in D minor, Op. 54 [12.15]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Ma mère l'Oye; 5 Pièces enfantines pour Piano à 4 mains [13:07] ¹
Adrian Farmer (piano) ¹
rec. Tracks 1 - 3 recorded 9 to 11 October 1990, track 4 recorded 21 May 1986, tracks 5 - 9 recorded 9 March 1982, at Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
NIMBUS NI 5340 [59:40]

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A mixed salad recorded at four year intervals between 1982 and 1990. The Waldstein came last and is laboured. There are a few trivial slips but, more importantly, there’s little sense of con brio in the opening. He was 87 at the time so this may go some way to explaining it. I assume the Third Chopin Scherzo is the same as the one on NI5393 - or is it a different performance? Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses in D minor dates from 1982 and represents fine playing, worthy of admiration. So too the charming performance of Ma mère l'Oye with Nimbus’s Adrian Farmer, whom Perlemuter insisted play the top half. Perlemuter had played this work with Ravel (Perlemuter playing the bottom half) and he also played it with Jeanne Leleu who had given the first performance with Geneviève Durony. Enough for a frisson, surely.

 


 
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Phantasie in C major Op.17 [29:57]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Sonata in B minor [29:48]
rec. October 1974, Nimbus Studios, Birmingham (Liszt) and October 1990, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth (Schumann)
NIMBUS NI5299 [60:00]

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Interesting, I suppose, that there is, in these performances, ten seconds difference between the two very different works. His Schumann was recorded when he was 86 but I don’t think you’d know it. I referred in my introduction to the occasional technical weakness but few are evident here. There is a real sense of energy coursing through the bloodstream of this performance, a sense of momentum and sweeping grandeur. One shouldn’t be surprised that his Liszt takes a direct approach. With performances of this work now regularly breaching 33 or 34 minutes, his 1974 recording – adroit, powerful – aims for cohesiveness, not localised drama.

 


 
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kreisleriana Op.16 [30:50]
Etudes symphoniques Op.13 [28:45]
rec. June 1982 (Kreisleriana) and December 1985 (Etudes), Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
NIMBUS NI 5108 [59:35]


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Before Perlemuter recorded his powerful Phantasie (see above) he’d visited Wyastone to set down his Kreisleriana and Etudes symphoniques. He was 78 when he recorded the former, his technique still strong, the playing direct, powerfully conceived and conceived moreover in a concentrated arch. Never one for easy emoting, this is not necessarily the most pliant cycle one will hear, but that was never his aim. Similar virtues attend the Etudes symphoniques which avoids sentiment and bombast equally. Some may read into his playing, because of the biographical connections, vestiges of Cortot’s Schumann playing, but Perlemuter was long since his own man.

 


 
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in F minor Op.57 Appassionata [21:56]
Piano Sonata in E flat Op.81a Les Adieux [16:48]
Eroica Variations Op.35 [24:40]
rec. December 1987 (Appassionata, Les Adieux), Wyastone Leys, Monmouth and 1974, Nimbus Studios, Birmingham (Eroica)
NIMBUS NI 5133 [63:25]

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Perlemuter had carte blanche to record what he wanted from his repertoire for Nimbus. He chose three Beethoven sonatas – the Waldstein is on NI 5350 – and the Eroica variations, the last of which derives from a Birmingham performance. What is revealing about the Appassionata, in particular, is Perlemuter’s explicit revelation of the harmonic implications of the music, notably the left hand steps in the central movement. What may seem didactic in other hands is here a study in carefully balanced drama. One may not think of him as a Beethovenian, but clearly he approached the few works he chose to record in a spirit of precision and concentration.

 


 
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Italian Concerto BWV971 [12:35]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Pour le piano [14:22]
Images Book 1 [15:41]
L’Isle joyeuse [7:30]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka Op.17 No.4 [4:00]
Mazurka Op.30 No.4 [3:49]
Mazurka Op.50 No.3 [4:53]
Tarantelle Op.43 [3:40]
rec. December 1985, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth (Bach, L’Isle joyeuse, Pour le piano except the Toccata); May 1986 (Pour le piano – Toccata, Images, Chopin Mazurkas) and March 1983 (Tarantelle)
NIMBUS NI 5080 [65:30]

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My Perlemuter Pilgrimage ends with this mixed volume. I was interested to see that the Toccata from Pour le Piano comes not from the December 1985 session but from one made in May the following year. I assume either he didn’t record it in December or (more likely?) he was dissatisfied with the results. Inevitably Perlemuter slowed as he aged. There is a BBC broadcast of Pour le piano from 1968 (issued in the BBC Music Magazine) in which things are very much more vital and zestful, in which articulation is crisper and the results very different from the invariably more laboured playing here. Once again I don’t get on with his Chopin Mazurkas; give me Friedman! His Bach is affectionately direct, with attractive voicings and no overstressing. This is a somewhat catch-all disc but it does preserve playing of great character and imagination.
 
I’m sure no encouragement from me is necessary to acquire some of these discs. Selectivity will prove rewarding. Enlightenment will be permanent.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 

 


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