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Leff Pouishnoff (piano)
The Complete 78 RPM and Selected Saga LP Recordings
rec. 1922-1958
APR 6022 [73:49 + 75:32]

Leff Pouishnoff was born in that fulcrum of musical genius, Odessa, but spent most of his professional career in London. Judging by the plethora of surviving concert programmes on the secondhand market – where it’s hard to avoid Pouishnoff programmes - he was a constant presence on the recital platforms and for a time seemed to occupy something of the cachet of a Moiseiwitsch. But whilst Pouishnoff was not an artist on that elevated level, he possessed many qualities, and his best recordings attest to a luminous tone and a fine structural awareness. He was an exclusive Columbia artist from 1922 to 1929 and then recorded nothing for two decades when he was taken up by HMV in 1948 for just two 78s. A decade later he made stereo LPs and the saga of these Saga LPs provides a fascinating postscript to the set.

Normally an artist who recorded steadily if not prolifically for Columbia – and who had just recorded his one major work, Schubert’s Sonata in G major, D894 for the Schubert centenary - might have been expected to continue until the amalgamation of Columbia and HMV, which led to something of a purge in artists. But a Liszt brace in 1929 was it for Columbia and for Pouishnoff so maybe Columbia saw no commercial future in the artist in the light of the impending disaster of the Wall Street crash.

His Bach/Saint-SaŽns Overture from 1922 is exciting but hectic. It was one of his favourite encore pieces and one can hear why - plenty of active voicings, a very active left-hand, it’s certainly not dull but it’s also not altogether disciplined either. Renewed vitality can be savoured in the similarly hyphenated Beethoven/Saint-SaŽns Chorus of the Dervishes from The Ruins of Athens; his quality of whipping things up is an attractive trait for an artist in the recordings studios of 1923. These acoustics preserve his earthy vitality and to an extent that marvelous quality of tone he possessed.

You’ll also encounter three of his own piano pieces – he studied composition under Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov in St Petersburg – of which one is a typical rain study but is replete with a Tchaikovskian ardency. The acoustics vary in recording quality – the change from sessions only a year apart is very audible – but the Columbia electrics allow his tone to bloom. His was the first recording of D894 and indeed only the second recording of a Schubert piano sonata to be inscribed on disc. It shows a finely judged, sensitive and unmelodramatic approach – eloquent, decorous and very sympathetic in all respects with a charmingly buoyant finale. His 1929 Liszt pairing was not issued domestically; it was exported to America for release rather like the delightful 1926 reading of his erstwhile teacher Glazunov’s Polka, Op.42/2. Importantly there are three Godowsky transcriptions – of Schubert’s Rosamunde, Saint-SaŽns’ The Swan and Albťniz’s Tango – of which The Swan is heard in a previously unissued test pressing; an important survivor in Pouishnoff’s discography. He re-recorded the Glazunov Polka now in fine electric sound and expanded his portfolio of works to include Grainger’s Shepherd’s Hey.

The Chopin sequence for HMV in 1948 doesn’t show him at his best. The Etude Op.25/2 is fast and over-nonchalant for a start and it’s clear that the company had no further interest in him. He wouldn’t have been the only artist to have slogged across the country playing far too much during the war years in the interests of morale building. Equally the four Chopin pieces to be heard in the 1958 stereo LPs fail to convince that he was a consistently elevated interpreter of the composer. These are fitful readings; the Barcarolle remains studiously unmemorable, the Fantaisie-Impromptu is coolly dispatched, but there are deftly dappled moments in the Berceuse. Glazunov’s Theme and Variations, Op.72 is by far the longest and most interesting of the Sagas to be heard – we are presented with a selection, not the complete recordings, which included Liszt. Here one finds nobility, elegance and assurance and a genuine affection for the music. A year later he was dead, at 67, of barbiturate poisoning followed a few weeks by his wife, of the same cause. The saga mentioned earlier is best read about in the notes and relates to the record company’s shenanigans over performances released at the time under Pouishnoff’s name but which were actually played by Sergio Fiorentino. Only the genuine Pouishnoff recordings have been included in this APR release. Michael Spring’s words on this are well worth reading, as is Jonathan Summer’s splendid booklet note. Pouishnoff has hitherto been poorly represented on CD so this twofer is more than welcome.

Jonathan Woolf
 
Previous review: Stephen Greenbank


Complete tracklisting

 
CD 1 [73:49]
The Columbia acoustics 1922–1923
Bach/Saint-SaŽns Overture BWV29 [3:21]
Beethoven/Saint-SaŽns Chorus of Dervishes [2:39]
Schubert/Pouishnoff Ballet music from "Rosamunde" [2:30]
Chopin …tude Op. 25/9 [0:56]
…tude Op. 10/4 [1:58]
Liszt Gnomenreigen S145/2 [2:46]
Debussy Arabesque in G major [2:24]
Glazunov Polka Op. 42/2 [2:32]
Rachmaninov Humoresque Op. 10/5 [3:26]
Pouishnoff Quand il pleut [2:54]
Petite valse [1:24]
Music box [1:08]
The Columbia electrics 1926–1929
Schubert/Pouishnoff Ballet music from "Rosamunde’\" [2:25]
Schubert/Godowsky Moment musical Op. 94/3 [1:59]
Schubert Piano Sonata Op. 78 [31:14]
Impromptu Op. 142/2 [3:48]
Liszt Waldesrauschen S145/1 [3:24]
Gnomenreigen S145/2 [2:46]

CD 2 [75:32]
The Columbia electrics 1926–1929 (continued)
Albťniz/Godowsky Tango Op. 165/2 [2:57]
Saint-SaŽns/Godowsky The Swan (previously unpublished) [2:21]
Paderewski Caprice Op. 14/3 [2:23]
Glazunov Polka Op. 42/2 [2:29]
Rachmaninov Prelude in B flat major Op. 23/2 [3:09]
Polichinelle Op. 3/4 [3:34]
Grainger Shepherd’s Hey [2:02]
The HMV recordings 1948
Chopin …tude Op. 25/1 [2:13]
…tude Op. 25/2 [1:29]
Mazurka Op. 30/4 [3:39]
Chopin Nocturne Op. 32/1 [4:50]
Waltz Op. 34/1 [4:38]
The Saga recordings 1958
Chopin Nocturne Op. 9/2 [4:02]
Berceuse Op. 57 [4:12]
Barcarolle Op. 60 [8:38]
Fantaisie-Impromptu Op. 66 [4:33]
Glazunov Theme and Variations Op. 72 [18:13] 

 

 



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