A small word of caution regarding this latest release in Guild’s
‘Zentralbibliotek’ collection devoted to Swiss artists; there
is clearly no attempt to deceive, but I should point out that
whilst it’s perfectly true that Ganz is captured, as the booklet
cover announces, ‘am klavier’, these are not disc recordings.
Rather they are reproducing piano rolls, made for Welte-Mignon
in Freiburg in 1913 and for Duo-Art in America in 1920, and
so the former recordings, in particular, which enticingly offer
two movements from Korngold’s Op.2 Piano Sonata, should be seen
in that light. The remainder of the disc is devoted to a performance
of Ganz conducting Grieg’s Holberg Suite, and a brief 1957 Lausanne
Ganz (1877-1972) was born in Zurich studying successively cello,
piano and composition. Crucially he also studied with Busoni,
who was to remain a source of inspiration to Ganz for the rest
of his life. In 1900 he premiered his own First Symphony with
the Berlin Philharmonic and later, having married an American,
departed for Chicago where he taught for a while before concentrating
on a career as a concert pianist. He pioneered the appreciation
of much new French music whilst in America, before returning
to Germany where he did similar work as a conductor and pianist
for such composers as Delius, Elgar, Sibelius and Bartók. When
war broke out he returned to America as conductor of the St.
Louis Symphony from 1921-27, and then became closely associated
with the Chicago Musical College. He continued to programme
new works by such as Copland, Ibert, and Honegger, and he performed
recitals with his second wife, Ester LaBerge — including Webern
lieder — and didn’t neglect the avant-garde of Elliott Carter
and John Cage either.
The rolls are adequately transferred though the piano used for
the transfers of the Freiburg Welte-Mignons comes under pressure
and doesn’t sound wholly well regulated. The American rolls
are of rather lightweight material, and don’t show him as one
of the apostles of modernism, more a purveyor of gentle fireside
charm. Seven years earlier we find the real Ganz, performing
Granados, Glazunov — the Op.31/3 La Nuit — and Debussy. Balanced
as these are by Chopin and Liszt, we are still heavily weighted
toward contemporary literature in the shape of Korngold’s Second
sonata, of which we hear two movements. It’s an index of Ganz’s
Busoni-inspired capacity to absorb new music. And it’s rather
a shame that we don’t hear more from these Freiburg sessions
— he recorded Bartók and his own music — in preference to the
rather trivial 1920 Duo-Arts. Highly imperfect though reproducing
piano material is, it can still be instructive.
The Holberg Suite comes from a 1948 studio recording; a genial,
well paced through not excessively imaginative performance.
And we end with a four minute interview, in French, from 1957
in which he talks briefly about early influences.
If you are a Ganz admirer and were expecting revelations along
the line of, say, Dante HPC050, which contained his own Op.32
Piano Concerto in the Decca 78 played by himself with the Chicago
Symphony under Stock, you should probably think again. That
disc also contained Ganz espousing MacDowell’s music, performances
taken from World Program transcriptions. This Guild is more
difficult to judge. The rolls are important but flawed objects,
and the Grieg is lightweight. Given that there is not much Ganz
available however, hardcore collectors may well be interested.