Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Sonata No.21 in C, Op.53 ‘Waldstein’ [20.04]
Andante favori in F, WoO57 [8.04] Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 'Emperor' [37.27] Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kreisleriana, Op.16 [28.26] Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881) Pictures at an Exhibition [23.38] Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43 [21.46] Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No.3 in A flat, Op.47 [7.36]
Moiseiwitsch in Interview Benno Moiseiwitsch (piano)
rec. 1946-61 TESTAMENT SBT31509 [3 CDs: 80:34 + 59:21 + 79:56]
Moiseiwitsch’s sizeable commercial discography has been well-served on CD, but his relatively few preserved live concerts haven’t had the same circulation. Devotees of this distinguished pianist will heartily welcome this 3 CD set of previously unpublished material. All the musical items derive from the BBC archives, with the interviews taken from the BBC and other sources.
Like Emil Gilels, Nathan Milstein and David Oistrakh, Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963) hailed from Odessa, the third largest city in the Ukraine. He was a pupil of Theodor Leschetizky, whose students included Paderewski, Schnabel, Horszowski and Brailowsky. Leschetizky, himself, had been a pupil of Carl Czerny. Moiseiwitsch’s repertoire centred on the nineteenth century Romantics, and he became particularly noted for his interpretations of Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninov. He took British citizenship shortly before the Second World War.
From 1958 we have a broadcast recording of the ‘Waldstein’ Sonata. It’s certainly one of the finest interpretations I’ve ever heard, informed by aristocratic elegance and a sense of structure. Astutely paced, everything seems just right – tempo, phrasing and dynamics. The Prestissimo third movement is technically secure, with some stunning fingerwork. The pianist follows it with a glowing performance of the Andante favori, aptly chosen as it was Beethoven’s original intention for it to be the second of the three movements of the Op. 53.
On two occasions in the interviews on CD 3, the pianist discusses his special relationship with the music of Schumann and what the composer’s music means to him. The qualities he finds in it are sincerity, depth, feeling and integrity. I was pleased that we have one example of that composer’s music in the shape of Kreisleriana, a broadcast from 1961. The performance is an intoxicating blend of lyricism and passionate intensity. You feel that here is a pianist who gets to the emotional core of the music. It’s a probing account, contrasting Schumann’s dual personality - the poetic sensibilities of no. 5 (sehr lebhaft) with the feverish passion in no. 7 (sehr rasch).
I’ve always rated Moiseiwitsch’s 1945 HMV recording of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition very highly, and am grateful for the inclusion of this alternative take. It has an innate feeling of spontaneity and freshness, and there’s certainly no vestige of routine. Whilst achieving a unified conception, he brings atmosphere and character to the individual tableaux, capturing the bustling evocation of The Market at Limoges, the capriciousness of The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks, and the splendid nobility of The Great Gate of Kiev.
Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ was taped at the 8,000 seat open-air Lewisohn Stadium, with the Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York, in fact the New York Philharmonic, under Josef Krips. Despite having an unfavourable reputation for its acoustics, especially as far as classical concerts were concerned, the performance here is sonically acceptable, though a little lacking in special depth. In the first movement Krips sets an energetic pace in the tutti. The Adagio is steeped in lyricism and is raptly intense, with a robust, spirited finale setting the seal on a compelling reading. The performance was part of a three-concert Beethoven Festival. The day prior, Michael Rabin had played the Violin Concerto. After the concert, Moiseiwitsch took the concerto to the Hollywood Bowl, another open-air venue on the West coast.
If there was one work more closely associated with the pianist than any other during his concert career it was the Paganini Rhapsody by Rachmaninov. In 1935, a year after its composition, Moiseiwitsch performed it at the Proms in London. It went down very well with the audience, and he was asked to play it for the next six seasons. In this performance with Boult and the BBC Symphony you sense a rapport between conductor and soloist; after all, they had collaborated together on many occasions during the war. Interpretively similar to the commercial recording the pianist made in December 1938 there are some instances, as in the famous eighteenth variation, where Basil Cameron and the Liverpool Philharmonic give it more of a romantic sweep.
The included interviews offer us a hint of the character and personality of the pianist. In them he shares his thoughts on subjects such as repertoire, other pianists and colleagues and his practice methods. In the final extract from Words and Music with Jack Payne, he plays Chopin’s Ballade No.3, dedicating it to Sir Winston Churchill and his wife who were, at that time, celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. He relates the story of how the Churchills had the piece played at their wedding. Apparently, Sir Winston always called it ‘the galloping horse’, referring to the rhythm of the second theme.
The set offers the listener a representative cross-section of the Moiseiwitsch repertoire, with these valuable live airings complementing the commercial discography. Sound quality is more than acceptable throughout. Jonathan Summers' liner contribution offers some informative insights.
Stephen Greenbank Track Details CD 1 [80.34] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.21 in C, Op.53 ‘Waldstein’ [20.04]
Andante favori in F, WoO57 [8.04]
rec. 18 August 1958. Broadcast 5 and 7 October 1958 on the BBC Home Service. Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kreisleriana, Op.16 [28.26] Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition [23.38]
rec. 26 June 1961. Broadcast 2 July 1961 on the BBC Home Service.
CD 2 [59.21] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 'Emperor' [37.27]
Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York/Josef Krips
rec. 19 July 1961, Lewisohn Stadium, New York Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43 [21.46]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 14 July 1946, Royal Albert Hall, London. Broadcast live on the BBC Light Programme CD 3 [79.56] Moiseiwitsch in Interview
WKCR New York in the late 1950s [12.22]
New York 1958 [19.16]
Extract from a BBC interview in the late 1950s or early 60s [2.27]
Frankly Speaking: a BBC interview with John Freeman, Philip Hope-Wallace and George Scott [33.52]
Broadcast 13 May 1959, on the BBC Home Service
Extract from Words and Music with Jack Payne [3.57] Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No.3 in A flat, Op.47 [7.36]
rec. 11 September 1958