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The Complete Raoul von Koczalski (piano) - Volume 2
Pre-War Recordings
rec. 1930-1939
Track-listing and timings below
MARSTON 53016-2 [3 CDs: 77:58 + 75:29 + 79:22]

Unlike several of his contemporaries who were renowned for their Chopin playing, such as Paderewski, Cortot and Arthur Rubinstein, the Polish pianist Raoul von Koczalski (1884-1948) appears to have gone off the radar, his star never shining as brightly. Listening to these exceptionally fine recordings, I’m astonished. He left an extensive recorded legacy, which was heavily biased towards Chopin. He could boast admirable credentials, tracing his lineage back to the composer via his teacher Karol Mikuli (1821-1897), Chopin's favorite Polish student and assistant. Koczalski came to Mikuli in 1892, aged eight, and had lessons with him over the summer months for the next three years. Despite, the relatively short duration of this relationship, the fact that forty-four years had passed since his teacher last had contact with Chopin, and the thirty years that were to elapse before Koczalski set foot in a studio, the pianist capitalized on his illustrious pedigree. He later prepared a comprehensive edition of Chopin’s works, still regarded as an authoritative source in some quarters, and now available in its latest incarnation from Dover Publications.

He was born in Warsaw. As his talent began to show promise, his father gave up his own career to promote that of his son. Alexander Koczalski would go to any lengths to accomplish this end, and the almost Machiavellian tactics he used to publicize his prodigy are astounding at times. There was competition, with other players on the field – the young Josef Hofmann who was creating a sensation, and a Swiss prodigy called Otto Hegner. Raoul’s father knocked a year off his son’s age — this explains some sources having 1885 as his date of birth — and in England promoted him as ‘The New little Mozart’. By the age of nine he had composed fifty works, and at eleven conducted his own ‘Symphonic Legend’ with orchestra. Alexander coached him in developing mannerisms and artificial gestures whilst playing. His avaricious nature manifested itself when he arranged for his nine year old son to perform fifty-four concerts over sixty-five days between February to April 1893; on ten consecutive days he played two concerts in different locations. This led some to believe that the boy was being exploited, whilst others questioned the legality of such actions. Other unscrupulous scheming included Raoul being designated ‘Court Pianist to the Shah of Persia’, and the title ‘von’ was added to his name to denote a spurious aristocratic lineage. Bizarrely, in 1896, rumours circulated in some news publications that Raoul was a girl.

I’ve lived with these recordings for the past fortnight, and what surprises me is how modern Koczalski’s playing sounds in many respects. OK, one hears several ‘out-dated’ mannerisms such as de-synchronisation of hands, and argeggiation of chords not intended to be broken. I recently reviewed a boxed set of recordings by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who applies de-synchonisation frequently, but it’s one of those practices that really doesn’t bother me too much. It can have the advantage of giving prominence to the melodic line. Koczalski more often than not sustains a metronomic left hand, whilst producing fluidity in the right. He’s sparing with the pedal, avoid smudging of harmonies, yet never sounding dry. He cannot be accused of pulling the music around, rubato is judiciously applied, and used to express a particular effect. His instinctive sense of nuance, inflexion and rhythmic elasticity serves the music of Chopin well, and is idiomatic. He achieves a rich, beautiful, rounded tone, and is master of a singing legato line, calling to mind such pianists as Horowitz, Cortot, Bolet and Cherkassky. His exquisite voicing of chords is to be admired, and his tonal palette is broad. He eschewed the practice of some of his contemporaries of applying such embellishments as bass octave doublings, and extending passages above the range of Chopin’s keyboard like Friedman, Moiseiwitsch, Rosenthal and Busoni. A distinguishing feature of his playing is his faithful adherence to Chopin’s text, and he is never wilful.
 
Koczalski’s technical prowess is showcased in the two sets of Études, Opp. 10 and 25. In Op. 10, No. 1 the arpeggios flow evenly, and the octave bass notes are emphasised in such a way as to add shape and structure. Full marks too to No. 3 – there’s no soppy sentimentalism here. The ‘Black key’ Étude is delicate and lightly played, and the ‘Revolutionary’ (No. 12) has drama and passion in abundance. In the Op. 25 set, No. 1 ‘Aeolian Harp’ disappoints. It is too metronomic and lacks expression and poetry. In No. 5 he lovingly phrases the left hand melody against the right hand arpeggio figures. The thirds in the following Étude will be the envy of many. No. 7, difficult to bring off well, is eloquent, with the melody well-shaped, whilst No. 11 ‘Winter Wind’ is a let-down, lacking that final ounce of energy and élan.
 
The Op. 28 Preludes are an impressive cycle in the hands of this pianist, and constitute one of the highlights of the set. In No. 2 the right hand melody is expressively phrased against a rhythmically exact accompaniment, and the left hand semiquavers of No. 3 glisten. No. 4 disappoints and doesn’t have Cortot’s poetry, being staid and pedestrian, but in the following Prelude the cross-rhythms are well executed. Elegance and charm sum up No. 7, and the technical demands of No. 8 are met head-on. The ‘Raindrop’ is deliciously evocative, but the Presto con fuoco (No. 16) is underpowered. No. 17 is truly a ‘song with out words’ and No. 24 ends the cycle with gusto.

The Four Ballades reveal Koczalski equally at home in the larger forms. It’s a pity that he didn’t record the Barcarolle, Fantasie and Scherzos 1, 3 and 4 during this period. The Ballades are epic readings, agreeably paced, aristocratic and nobly discharged. They are also rich in imagination and seductive in their own way. The drama in No. 1, the alternating serenity and agitation in No. 2, it’s all there. In No. 3 there’s some ravishing playing and the coda of No. 4 is an overwhelming experience that leaves the listener in awe.

There are two versions of the Berceuse, Op 57. I have a preference for the later Polydor reading (1938), which radiates more subtlety, is more sensitively sculpted and is played with greater poetic engagement. The Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53 is dramatic and heroic, without ever resorting to bombast. The success of the eight waltzes, recorded 1938 and 1939, makes one regret that a full cycle wasn’t set down. Koczalski captures the introspective quality of Op. 34 No. 2, whilst No. 1 is a tour-de-force of extrovert energy and brilliance. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the Scherzo No. 2, which seems too self-regarding and self-conscious. The Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2 is played ‘with authentic variants’. These consist of added florid embellishments, said to have originated from the composer himself, and notated by Karol Mikuli. I find them rather attractive, and they are certainly a curiosity if nothing else.

The recordings which comprise this second volume derive from three record companies. The earliest are the Homocord recordings, set down in Milan, not Berlin as previously thought. Exact dates of the sessions cannot be given due to lack of documentation, but the earliest date from 1930. The Electrolas were cut in Berlin on 17 March 1937 and consist of three discs. Sonically superior, they present the pianist in the best possible light. Finally, the Polydors were recorded, also in Berlin, 1938-9. In these, the piano is ideally placed in the sound-picture, and they reveal a rich rounded piano tone and wealth of tonal colour.

The audio conservation of these recordings by Ward Marston and J. Richard Harris is exemplary, and showcases this valuable artistic legacy at its best. As is the norm with Marston Records, the documentation is extensive, running to thirty-five pages. Donald Manildi (the producer) discusses the art of Koczalski while Gregor Benko provides us with a detailed biography of the pianist. There are some black and white photographs of Koczalski, who looks more like a kindly bank manager than a concert pianist.

Lovers of Chopin’s music will, like me, find much to savour and enjoy in this release.

Stephen Greenbank

Track-listing

CD 1 [77:58]
Homocord
Recorded Milan, ca. September 1930
1. Gavotte in G Minor, from English Suite No. 3, BWV 808 (Bach) 2:35
(H-67738) Odeon O-4761b
2. German Dance in B-flat, K. 600, No. 3 (Mozart) 1:31
(H-67736) Odeon O-25615b
3. German Dance in F, K. 602, No. 2 (Mozart) 1:12
(H-67736) Odeon O-25615b
CHOPIN
4. Prelude in A, Op. 28, No. 7 0:48
(H-67740) Odeon O-4761a
5. Waltz in D-flat, Op. 64, No. 1 “Minute” 1:49
(H-67740) Odeon O-4761a
6. Prelude in D-flat, Op. 28, No. 15 “Raindrop” 4:39
(H- 2-58050) Homocord D-12035a
7. Berceuse in D-flat, Op. 57 4:05
(H-2-58051) Homocord D-12035b
8. Etude in G-flat, Op. 10, No. 5 “Black Keys” 1:38
(H-67731) Odeon O-25615a
9. Etude in G-flat, Op. 25, No. 9 “Butterfly” 1:08
(H-67731) Odeon O-25615a
10. Etude in F Minor, Op. 25, No. 2 1:19
(H-67735) unpublished
11. Etude in F, Op. 25, No. 3 1:37
(H-67735) unpublished
12. Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35 – 3rd movement (Funeral March) 6:01
(H-67732 and H-67733) Homocord 4-3955
Electrola/His Master’s Voice
Recorded Berlin, 17 March 1937
CHOPIN
Three Ecossaises, Op. 72, No. 3
13. No. 1 in D 0:53
14. No. 2 in G 0:26
15. No. 3 in D-flat 0:41
(0RA1906-2) HMV DA4431
16. Mazurka in F, Op. 68, No. 3 1:18
(0RA1906-2) HMV DA4430
17. Nocturne in F-sharp, Op. 15, No. 2 3:30
(0RA1907-1) HMV DA4430
18. Polonaise in A-flat, Op. 53 6:15
(0RA1908-1 and 0RA1909-1) HMV DA4431
19. Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 31 8:39
(2RA1910-1 and 2RA1911-2) HMV DB4474
Deutsche Grammophon/Polydor
Recorded Berlin
CHOPIN
20. Berceuse in D-flat, Op. 57 4:19
28 June 1938; (795 ½ GE8) 67246A
21. Impromptu in F-sharp, Op. 36 5:00
29 June 1938; (804 ½ GE8) 67248A
22. Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp Minor, Op. 66 4:54
29 June 1938; (800 ½ GE8) 67248B
23. Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9, No. 2 (with authentic variants) 4:31
28 June 1938; (796 ½ GE8) 67246B
24. Nocturne in B, Op. 32, No. 1 4:32
17 November 1939; (1300-4 GS9) 67534B
25. Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1 4:39
17 November 1939; (1301-2 GS9) 67534A

CD 2 [75:29]
Deutsche Grammophon/Polydor
Recorded Berlin (Continued)
CHOPIN
Twelve Etudes, Op. 10
Recorded 29 June 1938
1. No. 1 in C 2:01
(812 ½ GE8) 67263B
2. No. 2 in A Minor 1:25
(808 ½ GE8) 67263A
3. No. 3 in E 3:38
(805 ½ GE8) 67262A
4. No. 4 in C-sharp Minor 2:10
(809 ½ GE8) 67262B
5. No. 5 in G-flat “Black Keys” 1:36
(808 ½ GE8) 67263A
6. No. 6 in E-flat Minor 2:33
(809 ½ GE8) 67262B
7. No. 7 in C 1:33
(808 ½ GE8) 67263A
8. No. 8 in F 2:35
(811 ¾ GE8) 67264A
9. No. 9 in F Minor 1:49
(803 ½ GE8) 67264B
10. No. 10 in A-flat 2:18
(811 ¾ GE8) 67264A
11. No. 11 in E-flat 2:11
(812 ½ GE8) 67263B
12. No. 12 in C Minor “Revolutionary” 2:40
(803 ½ GE8) 67264B
Twelve Etudes, Op. 25
13. No. 5 in E Minor 3:08
29 June 1938; (801 ½ GE8) 67243A
14. No. 2 in F Minor 1:22
29 June 1938; (801 ½ GE8) 67243A
15. No. 3 in F 1:40
29 June 1938; (807 ½ GE8) 67245A
16. No. 4 in A Minor 1:49
29 June 1938; (807 ½ GE8) 67245A
17. No. 5 in E Minor 3:08
29 June 1938; (801 ½ GE8) 67243A
18. No. 6 in G-sharp Minor “Thirds” 1:52
29 June 1938; (810 ¾ GE8) 67245B
19. No. 7 in C-sharp Minor “Cello” 4:36
28 June 1938; (794 ½ GE8) 67242A
20. No. 8 in D-flat “Sixths” 1:21
29 June 1938; (806 ½ GE8) 67243B
21. No. 9 in G-flat “Butterfly” 1:00
29 June 1938; (806 ½ GE8) 67243B
22. No. 10 in B Minor “Octave” 4:05
29 June 1938; (814 ½ GE8) 67242B
23. No. 11 in A Minor “Winter Wind” 3:23
29 June 1938; (813 ½ GE8) 67244A
24. No. 12 in C Minor “Ocean” 3:00
29 June 1938; (810 ¾ GE8) 67245B
Three Etudes without opus number (“Nouvelle”)
25. No. 3 in A-flat 1:28
26. No. 2 in D-flat 1:30
27. No. 1 in F Minor 1:39
29 June 1938; (802 ¾ GE8) 67244B
28. Waltz in E-flat, Op. 18 “Grande Valse Brillante” 4:11
12 June 1939; (1167-2 GS9) 67515A
29. Waltz in A-flat, Op. 34, No. 1 4:32
28 June 1938; (798 ½ GE8) 67247A
30. Waltz in A Minor, Op. 34, No. 2 4:22
12 June 1939; (1168-2 GS9) 67515B
31. Waltz in F, Op. 34, No. 3 2:10
10 June 1939; (1162-2 GS9) 67533A

CD 3 [79:22]
Deutsche Grammophon/Polydor
Recorded Berlin
CHOPIN
1. Waltz in D-flat, Op. 64, No. 1 “Minute” 1:34
10 June 1939; (1162-2 GS9) 67533A
2. Waltz in A-flat, Op. 64, No. 3 2:19
10 June 1939; (1163-2 GS9) 67533B
3. Waltz in A-flat, Op. 69, No. 1 4:01
28 June 1938; (797 ½ GE8) 67247B
4. Waltz in G-flat, Op. 70, No. 1 2:12
10 June 1939; (1163-2 GS9) 67533B
Twenty-four Preludes, Op. 28
5. No. 1 in C 0:37
10 June 1939; (1153-2 GS9) 67505A
6. No. 2 in A Minor 1:25
10 June 1939; (1153-2 GS9) 67505A
7. No. 3 in G 0:56
10 June 1939; (1153-2 GS9) 67505A
8. No. 4 in E Minor 1:19
10 June 1939; (1153-2 GS9) 67505A
9. No. 5 in D 0:38
10 June 1939; (1154-2 GS9) 67505B
10. No. 6 in B Minor 1:33
10 June 1939; (1154-2 GS9) 67505B
11. No. 7 in A 0:38
10 June 1939; (1154-2 GS9) 67505B
12. No. 8 in F-sharp Minor 1:41
10 June 1939; (1154-2 GS9) 67505B
13. No. 9 in E 1:07
10 June 1939; (1155-2 GS9) 67506A
14. No. 10 in C-sharp Minor 0:26
10 June 1939; (1155-2 GS9) 67506A
15. No. 11 in B 0:43
10 June 1939; (1155-2 GS9) 67506A
16. No. 12 in G-sharp Minor 1:08
10 June 1939; (1155-2 GS9) 67506A
17. No. 13 in F-sharp 2:39
10 June 1939; (1156-2 GS9) 67506B
18. No. 14 in E-flat Minor 0:33
10 June 1939; (1156-2 GS9) 67506B
19. No. 15 in D-flat 4:29
10 June 1939; (1157-2 GS9) 67507A
20. No. 16 in B-flat Minor 1:14
10 June 1939; (1158-2 GS9) 67507B
21. No. 17 in A-flat 3:09
10 June 1939; (1158-2 GS9) 67507B
22. No. 18 in F Minor 0:59
10 June 1939; (1159-2 GS9) 67508A
23. No. 19 in E-flat 1:21
10 June 1939; (1159-2 GS9) 67508A
24. No. 20 in C Minor 1:15
10 June 1939; (1159-2 GS9) 67508A
25. No. 21 in B-flat 1:40
10 June 1939; (1160-2 GS9) 67508B
26. No. 22 in G Minor 0:52
10 June 1939; (1160-2 GS9) 67508B
27. No. 23 in F 0:44
10 June 1939; (1160-2 GS9) 67508B
28. No. 24 in D Minor 2:45
12 June 1939; (1166-2 GS9) 67509A
29. Prelude without opus in A-flat 0:57
12 June 1939; (1166-2 GS9) 67509A
30. Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 45 3:56
10 June 1939; (1161-2 GS9) 67509B
31. Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 8:35
17 November 1939; (1302-2 GS9 and 1303-2 GS9) 67528
32. Ballade No. 2 in F, Op. 38 6:27
19 June 1939; (1180-1 GS9 and 1181-4 GS9) 67531
33. Ballade No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 47 7:09
19 June 1939 and 17 November 1939; (1176-2 GS9 and 1304-1 GS9) 67529
34. Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52 8:22
19 June 1939; (1178-2 GS9 and 1179-2 GS9) 67530

 

 




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