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Wanda Landowska: The Complete Piano Recordings
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 26 in D major, K537 (30:43)
Fantaisie in D minor, K397 (4:33)
Piano Sonata in F major, K322 (26:08)
Piano Sonata in D major, K576 (16:23)
Piano Sonata in D major, K311 - incomplete recording (8:39)
Piano Sonata in E flat major, K282 (17:00)
Piano Sonata in G major, K283 (18:30)
Piano Sonata in D major, K311 (19:20)
Rondo in A minor, K511 (10:20)
Country Dances K606 arranged Landowska (3:13)
Piano Sonata in D major, K333 (29:29)
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Andante and Variations in F minor, Hob. XVII:6 (14:28)
Piano Sonata in E minor, Hob. XVII:34 (9:45)
Piano Sonata in E flat major, Hob. XVII:49 (23:38)
Wanda Landowska (piano)
Unnamed orchestra/Walter Goehr
rec. 1937-58, London, Paris and Lakeville, Connecticut
APR 7305 [3 CDs: 78:28 + 77:04 + 77:21]

Many reissues have celebrated the art of Wanda Landowska, but almost always it's been Landowska the harpsichord pioneer rather than, as here, the pianist. The piano discs were made for HMV and Victor between 1937 and 1958; the former 78s, the latter LPs. These are the studio recordings - some live broadcast performances have survived and have been issued elsewhere.

The programme is shared between Mozart - the lion's share - and Haydn. There is one concerto performance, the D major, Coronation Concerto, K537 made in March 1937 with an anonymous pick-up ensemble directed by the versatile Walter Goehr. This was her first piano recording, not counting a few piano rolls she had made earlier in her professional life. The concerto was chosen due to the proximity in time to the Coronation of George VI. Goehr was a practised hand at accompanying and directed a similarly anonymous body for Myra Hess in their Schumann Concerto recording at about the same time. Landowska plays with compelling clarity, sparing of pedal, but poised, stylistically conscious, and sporting her own contentious but to me irresistible cadenza. A few dropped notes at around the five-minute mark are trivial. With her warm phrasing in the slow movement and her fine bass pointing in the finale she engineers a finely balanced performance. The Fantaisie in D minor K397 is very thoughtfully played. It was recorded as a filler for the Concerto, but is more than a filler when one listen attentively. The first disc also contains the Piano Sonatas K332 and K576, both recorded the following year in Paris. Neither was issued on 78, having to wait until LP transfers many years later. It's often been said that Nazi officials destroyed any surviving masters she and other Jewish artists made. These are refined, elegantly-scaled and beautifully voiced performances that never force through the tone. Fortunately too the frequency response in these sessions is first class.

The second disc contains a torso of K311, all that survives of this Paris recording, though she re-recorded it for LP nearly twenty years later, a performance also contained in this central CD of three. The RCA Victor sessions from which it derives were made in May 1956 and also took in the E flat major, K282, the G major, K283 - witty and songful - and the B flat major, K333. This last she plays very seriously and whilst there's brio in the finale there's not really very much 'grazioso'. She also plays the Rondo in A minor, K511 with conspicuous success and her own arrangement of the Country Dances, K606 is a delight from beginning to end. The final piano recordings were devoted to Haydn over the next couple of years. The Andante and Variations in F is played with profoundly serious intent and in general her approach to the two sonatas is one of tempered refinement. The E minor is measured and fluent and its slow movement, like that of the E flat major, is played without indulgence and over-expressive phrasing. She does take parts of the finale of the E minor up an octave, for her own doubtless very personal reasons.

Despite the fact that these 1956-58 LP recordings were made in Landowska's own home, the recording quality is surprisingly good. The engineers did well to minimise any boxiness and associated domestic noises - though there are a few creaks. Mark Obert-Thorn's restorations are characteristically fine, and Jed Distler's notes are very helpful. This is an excellent package, not least for those who have never before heard Landowska's pianism.

Jonathan Woolf


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