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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Fondazione Stauffer

Rarities on CD - NYC, 1940-1955
Alexander Brailowsky (piano)
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/Jean-Paul Morel*
rec. New York 1940-1955
Tracklisting, rec. dates and venues below

This interesting release has been put together by the Italian Fondazione Stauffer, which is based in Cremona. It features recordings made by the pianist Alexander Brailowsky (1896–1976) in New York between 1940 and 1955. Born in Kiev, Brailowsky attended the Conservatory there, graduating with a gold medal in 1911. His teachers included Leschetizky in Vienna, Ferruccio Busoni in Zürich, and Francis Planté in Paris. He adopted French citizenship in 1926. A leading concert pianist in the years between the two World Wars he made a speciality of the works of Frédéric Chopin.

Some of these recordings have had previous incarnations on CD, but my research tells me that certainly the Schumann, Franck and Mussorgsky items have never previously made it onto the silver disc. An alternative live studio airing of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, recorded in Paris (16 October 1949), is available on Meloclassic (MC 1008).

Apparently, Brailowsky was the first pianist to play a complete cycle of the Chopin Waltzes in a Paris concert in 1924, using the composer’s own piano for a portion of it. This 1950s traversal was the first of two recordings the pianist made; he re-recorded the waltzes in stereo for Columbia in 1960. This RCA cycle, not blessed with the best sound, is distinguished by refinement and freshness. Rubato is tastefully applied, and one can hear just how his Chopin playing was held in high regard at the time.

The Bach-William Murdoch transcription of the Concerto for Organ solo in D minor, BWV 596 (after Vivaldi) was set down twice by the pianist in the studio. This 1953 version is a first CD release; an earlier version from November 1938 has already surfaced on APR (5501). The declamatory opening has nobility, sweeping gestures and is truly in the grand manner. It ushers in a fugue, where Brailowsky skilfully teases out the polyphonic strands admirably. The elegantly phrased Largo is sensitively sculpted and the Finale is rhythmically buoyant.

Liszt’s demonically challenging Étude “La Campanella” offers a vehicle to showcase Brailowsky’s deft pyrotechnical skill, whilst the playful charm of Liadov’s Musical Snuff-Box provides a suitable contrast. Weber’s Aufforderung zum Tanze is marred by some sonic distortion in the loud passages; nevertheless it is an engaging reading. In the Mussorgsky, the pianist captures the mood of the individual pictures, with each vividly characterized. The Market at Limoges bustles with verve and vigour. The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks is light and capricious. The Great Gate of Kiev has nobility and grandeur. Interspersed throughout, the Promenade’s reappearance evokes the feeling of strolling leisurely through the gallery and pausing to peruse each painting. The Scriabin Étude is shot through with Horowitzian panache and bravura.

It is a measured approach that Brailowsky brings to the Schumann Sonata. The Introduction may lack the fiery passion of some readings, but as things progress he invests the movement with a restless, dramatic intent. The Aria is sensitively captivating, whilst the Scherzo is rhythmically charged. A compelling finale ends the piece in an upbeat manner. In the Franck Symphonic Variations which follow, the pianist is sympathetically partnered by Jean-Paul Morel and the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra. Brailowsky effectively conveys the richness of the piano writing, contrasting virtuosity with expressive lyricism.

These excellent restorations are the work of Pietro Zappalŕ, professor at the Department of Musicology of Cremona. The one exception is the Scriabin Étude in D-sharp minor, for which Mark Obert-Thorn can be credited. Lengthy booklet notes are provided but are in Italian only. I don’t know if this is the beginning of a projected series but have my fingers crossed.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
14 Waltzes [50:01]
rec. May-October 1941, RCA Studio 2, New York
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance) Op. 65 [9:34]
rec. 5 April 1949, RCA Studio 2, New York
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Étude No. 3 in A-flat minor “La Campanella” [4:27]
From Grandes Etudes de Paganini
rec. 20 April 1945, RCA Studio 2, New York
Anatol LIADOV (1855-1914)
A Musical Snuff-Box, Op. 32 [2:00]
rec. 3 May 1945, RCA Studio 2, New York
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in D Minor after Vivaldi, BWV 596 [11:35]
rec. 2 April 1953, Manhattan Center, New York
CD 2
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition [32:15]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Étude in D-sharp minor, Op. 8 No. 12 [2:08]
rec. May-December 1940, RCA Studio 2, New York
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11 [28:11]
rec. 14 February 1955, Webster Hall, New York
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphonic Variations (1885) [14:12]*
Alexander Brailowsky (piano)
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/Jean-Paul Morel*
rec. 20 February 1951, Manhattan Center, New York



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