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Arthur de Greef (piano) - Solo and Concerto Recordings
Recording venues not given
Track-listing at end of review.
APR 7401 [4 CDs: 240:25]

This set brings together de Greef’s complete recordings. Well, this is with the exception of the acoustic versions of the concertante works he subsequently recorded electrically: Liszt Hungarian Fantasia and the abridged versions of the Saint-Saëns and Grieg Concertos. Also, two collaborations with the English violinist Isolde Menges are not included. The Beethoven Kreutzer can be found on a deleted Biddulph (LAB 076) and is a fine performance, well worth seeking out.

Arthur de Greef was born in Leuven, Belgium, in 1862. His first teacher was Emile Mathieu (1844-1932). After winning a first prize he progressed to the class of Louis Brassin (1840-1884) at the Brussels' Conservatory. Another first prize was achieved, and he subsequently travelled to Weimar to study with Liszt. Unfortunately there is very little information about this significant period in de Greef’s life.

His studies complete, he began a career in teaching at the Brussels Conservatory and performing. Between 1918 and 1936 he made annual visits to Britain, making thirty-four appearances at the Proms, where he played the Grieg Concerto eleven times. This work became his calling-card and both pianist and composer became life-long friends. De Greef even performed the concerto under the direction of Grieg, prompting the composer to write to the violinist Ole Bull that de Greef ‘is the best interpreter of my music I have met with’.

Disc 1 is devoted to the acoustics, recorded between 1917 and 1923. Whilst allowances have to be made for the restricted sound spectrum, there is much to be admired in de Greef’s urbane and lucid pianism, completely free of indulgence. The Schumann Arabeske, though truncated to accommodate the restrictions posed by this primitive recording method, displays the pianist’s poetic instincts. These are notably absent from the Chopin Nocturne which sounds wooden. The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody in C sharp minor is a vehicle for the pianist’s virtuosity and Rubinstein’s Melody in F is dispatched with tasteful rubato. The four pieces by Grieg are stylish and idiomatic, whilst the Albéniz’s Seguidilla is rhythmically buoyant. Landon Ronald, the HMV house conductor, is an engaging collaborator in the Franck Variations Symphoniques.
Disc 2 features the pianist in the music of Liszt. The two piano concerto recordings are separated by seven years, and during this crucial time the electrical process developed. The First Piano Concerto is the least successful; recorded acoustically, the performance never really aspires to any heights due to Ronald’s stolid accompaniment. The Second Concerto is a different kettle of fish. Recorded electrically in 1930 and in good sound, Ronald rises to the occasion, inspiring de Greef to greater things. The lyrical moments are beautifully realized, with the cello and piano duet in the second movement ardent in its expression. The other items are equally successful, de Greef displaying to the full his Lisztian credentials.

Disc 3 contains electricals from 1925-1931. The Schubert/Liszt Soirées_de_Vienne is imbued with Viennese grace and charm. Then comes a Chopin selection, with the Second Sonata laying claim to being the first complete recording. I am not overly enamoured of de Greef’s Chopin, which I find cool, uninspired and earthbound. They are the least successful items in the set. The Moszkowski pieces, on the other hand, are scintillating and sparkle with energy.

Disc 4 has two distinguished concerto recordings. Once again Landon Ronald is in on the act as sympathetic partner. The Saint-Saëns is an attractively compelling performance and stands up well to scrutiny. The Grieg Concerto, a favourite of de Greef, also passes muster, though some may find the string portamenti in the slow movement a little overdone and dated. The selection of the composer’s Lyric Pieces are beautifully crafted and have an appealing simplicity.

APR is to be lauded for making these recordings available in fine transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. He has done a sterling job as certain source material was sonically compromised. Some of the pianist’s recordings were released on two Pearl CDs in the late 'nineties, and I find APR’s quieter transfers an improvement on these.

Booklet notes, in English only, are informative and well-written by Jonathan Summers. My only quibble would be that recording venues were not given: HMV studios for all but the electrical concertante works, where the Queen’s Hall was used.
Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Grieg piano concerto

CD 1 [62.57]
Acoustic HMV solo and concerto recordings, 1917–1923
1. GRÉTRY/GREEF Danse en ronde No 3 of Danses villageoises [1.29]
2. GRÉTRY/GREEF Entr’acte No 5 of Danses villageoises [1.17]
3. SCHUMANN Arabeske in C Op 18 [3.41]
4. SCHUMANN Finale from Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op 26 [3.57]
5. CHOPIN Nocturne in F sharp major Op 15 No 2 [3.36]
6. LISZT Hungarian Rhapsody in C sharp minor S244/12 [8.23]
7. RUBINSTEIN Melody in F Op 3 No 1 [4.17]
8. GRIEG Album Leaf in A major Op 28 No 3 [3.20]
9. GRIEG March of the Dwarfs Op 54 No 5 [3.30]
10. GRIEG Tempo di Menuetto Op 6 No 2 [2.50]
11. GRIEG Puck Op 71 No 3 [2.06]
12. MOSZKOWSKI Serenata Op 15 No 1 [1.58]
13. MOSZKOWSKI Étude in G major Op 18 No 3 [1.44]
14. ALBÉNIZ Seguidilla No 5 of Chants d’Espagne, Op 232 [3.03]
15. RONALD Pensée musicale [3.00]
16. FRANCK Variations symphoniques [14.41]
Royal Albert Hall Orchestra / Landon Ronald

CD 2 [72.25]
Acoustic and Electric HMV Liszt concerto and solo recordings, 1922–1930
LISZT Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat major S124
Royal Albert Hall Orchestra / Landon Ronald
1. Allegro maestoso: Tempo giusto [5.59]
2. Quasi adagio [4.24]
3. Allegretto vivace – Allegro animato [4.22]
4. Allegro marziale animato [4.44]
LISZT Piano Concerto No 2 in A major S125
London Symphony Orchestra / Landon Ronald
5. Adagio sostenuto assai – Allegro agitato assai [7.05]
6. Allegro moderato [5.28]
7. Allegro deciso – Marziale un poco meno allegro [4.39]
8. Allegro animato [2.03]
9. LISZT Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Themes S123 [16.12]
Royal Albert Hall Orchestra / Landon Ronald
10. LISZT Polonaise in E major S223/2 [8.51]
11. LISZT Hungarian Rhapsody in C sharp minor S244/12 [8.37]

C D 3 [56.16]
Electric HMV solo recordings, 1925–1931
1. SCHUBERT/LISZT Soirée de Vienne in A minor S427/6 [4.42]
CHOPIN Piano Sonata No 2 in B flat minor Op 35
2. Grave – Doppio movimento [7.25]
3. Scherzo [5.09]
4. Marche funèbre [6.47]
5. Presto [1.48]
6. CHOPIN Nocturne in F sharp major Op 15 No 2 [3.41]
7. CHOPIN Waltz in E flat major Op 18 [4.14]
8. CHOPIN Waltz in A flat major Op 42 [4.09]
9. CHOPIN Waltz in G flat major Op 70 No 1 [1.58]
10. CHOPIN Waltz in D flat major Op 64 No 1 [1.48]
11. RAFF La Fileuse Op 157 No 2 [4.10]
12. MOSZKOWSKI Serenata Op 15 No 1 [2.01]
13. MOSZKOWSKI Étude in G major Op 18 No 3 [1.42]
14. MOSZKOWSKI Valse Op 34 No 1 [6.38]

CD 4 [73.14]
Electric HMV concerto and solo recordings, 1927–1931
SAINT-SAËNS Piano Concerto No 2 in G minor Op22
New Symphony Orchestra / Landon Ronald
1. Andante sostenuto [10.52]
2. Allegro scherzando [6.10]
3. Presto [7.17]
GRIEG Piano Concerto in A minor Op 16
Royal Albert Hall Orchestra / Landon Ronald
4. Allegro molto moderato [12.10]
5. Adagio [5.40]
6. Allegro moderato molto e marcato – Andante maestoso [9.41]
7. GRIEG Arietta Op 12 No 1 [1.06]
8. GRIEG To the Spring Op 43 No 6 [3.15]
9. GRIEG Album Leaf in A major Op 28 No 3 [2.26]
10. GRIEG Butterfly Op 43 No 1 [1.48]
11. GRIEG Norwegian Bridal Procession Op 19 No 2 [3.52]
12. GRIEG Wedding Day at Troldhaugen Op 65 No 6 [5.40]
13. PROKOFIEV Gavotte from Classical Symphony, Op 25 [1.41]
14. GRÉTRY/GREEF Danse en ronde No 3 of Danses villageoises [1.35]