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Nadia Reisenberg - 110th Anniversary Tribute
Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)
Twenty-Four Preludes Op.38 (1943) [46.05]
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Twelve Pieces for Piano Op.40 (1878) [40.53]
Romance in F minor Op.5 (1868) [5.19]
Nocturne Op.10 No.1 (1872) [4.12]
Humoresque Op.10 No.2 (1872) [2.39]
Souvenir de Hapasal Op.2 (1867) [11.54]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Elegie Op.3 No.1 (1892) [5.41]
Prelude in C sharp minor Op.3 No.2 (1892)   [3.52]
Melodie in E major Op.3 No.3 (1892)  [5.01]
Serenade in B flat minor Op. 3 No. 5 (1892)  [3.31]
Polka de W.R (1911) [3.48]
Waltz in A major Op.10 No.2 (1893-94) [3.57]
Barcarolle in G major Op.10 No.3 (1893-94)  [4.28]
Romance in F minor, Op.10 No.6 (1893-94) [3:57]
Mazurka in D flat major Op.10 No.7 (1893-94) [5.34]
Polichinelle Op.3 No.4 (1892) [3:47]
Nadia Reisenberg (piano)
rec. Westminster LPs 1954/55
ROMÉO RECORDS 7309/10 [78:30 + 78:56]

This has taken me somewhat by surprise. The contents seemed very familiar, a fact confirmed when I read the very useful and comprehensive notes. This is (largely) a reissue of a twofer released first on Ivory Classics 74002 to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Nadia Reisenberg. It now appears a decade later, re-mastered, on Roméo Records. Some of the running order has changed but almost everything otherwise remains as before. I say almost everything as there are two small but valuable additions – Rachmaninoff’s Polichinelle and the Romance in F minor, Op.10 No.6. For some reason these were missing in the Ivory rerlease. The notes however are different, with some more personal reminiscences but with the commentary about the music, presented by Ivory, excised.

A word about that re-mastering. It is now much less biting in sound and less clangorous, and there has clearly been a good attempt to pitch-stabilise some of the more intransigent examples of her art that were faithfully preserved by Ivory. One cost of this clean-up, stabilisation and reduction of studio clang is that sometimes – I’m particularly thinking of the Tchaikovsky Twelve Pieces but it applies elsewhere – the perfomances can sound a little less visceral, vibrant and immediate than they did with the Ivory transfers. Still, there is muich to be said in favour of the new work. The relevant section in my original note referred to: “Some problems emerge in the actual recordings. Some of the smaller Tchaikovsky pieces suffer from a clangourous recording and there’s some shatter in the fortes of Op.40. I should also mention the endemic tape hiss, to which you will easily get used but which will be initially problematic.”
 
I’ve reviewed these lines from the body of my review below - otherwise it might confuse and misinform those coming fresh to this reissue.  Given that my views remain unchanged as to her splendid performances it may be useful to reprise my original review, with a few excisions made so as not to confuse.
I’ve already had the pleasure of reviewing Reisenberg’s Haydn recordings on Ivory. Here we have her Russian repertoire in recordings made for Westminster in 1954 and 1955 at pretty much the same time she made the Haydn sides.

Once again there can be no cause for complaint about the playing and musicianship – vibrant, rhythmically alive and full of colouristic warmth. The Kabalevsky 24 Preludes were written during the War and explore the major and minor keys in emulation of one or two more prestigious undertakings down the centuries but Kabalevsky based his thematic material on native folk songs. Most therefore are short – some pithy – but all are enjoyable, bright and sympathetically laid out. She takes the second firmly and briskly whilst bringing out the left hand melody line (that changes hands) in the vivace third. The compressed and big-boned fifth has plenty of colour and drive whilst Ravelian hints shadow the slow eighth. Other influences are perhaps the Mussorgskian inheritance that illuminates the grave tenth – chordally powerful, very well characterised by Reisenberg; she makes a real distinction between tones and mood in each and with a pin-point treble. The playful marcato fifteenth shows that not all is doom and gloom with its fanciful children’s profile and the rather Rachmaninovian eighteenth has a noble façade. There are traces of Iberian feroce in the last of the Preludes, much the longest of all the twenty-four but its lyrical episodes sum up the cycle as a whole – entertaining, reflective, animated. This was the kind of literature that attracted Horowitz who recorded some of the set but not, so far as I know, the whole cycle.

Similar qualities of distinction apply to the Tchaikovsky pieces; these are richly presented. Listen to the tonal gradations of the third of the Op.40 set, the funeral march, and its crisp rhythm. Or try the characterisation of the Mazurka and the folkloric charm of Au village. Reisenberg was clearly a subtle humourist if the hobble-toed gait of her Scherzo (Op.40 No.3) is anything to go by but her refinement is best appreciated in the stellar performance of the Romance in F minor, and her Gothic imagination is inspired by the first of Souvenir de Hapasal, a very early work with a creepy and atmospheric Ruined Castle. We also have powerful evidence of her excellence as a Rachmaninovian. The Prelude in C sharp minor may be ubiquitous, then perhaps more even than now, but she vests it with real power. Her rhythm in Polka de W.R is splendid and what drive she gives to the Mazurka Op.10 No.7 – hot stuff.
So the playing is splendid by anyone’s standard. Let’s hope there are more treasures in the Reisenberg vaults – this is a worthy and valuable 110th anniversary tribute.

Jonathan Woolf