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Mark Hambourg (piano)
Encores & Rarities: A selection of his HMV recordings
rec. 1910-1935, venues not given
APR 6023 [2CDs: 155:03]

Mark Hambourg (1879-1960) had the good fortune to be born into a musical family. His father had studied with Anton Rubinstein and had held a post as professor of piano at the Moscow Conservatory. He had a brother Boris who was a cellist and another, Jan, a violinist. In 1889 the family moved to London to escape the Tsarist regime. Mark made an impression from the start in his new home, such was his musical talent. He came to the attention of Ignace Paderewski, who arranged for him to study with his own teacher Theodore Leschetizky in Vienna, financing his tuition for two years. Leschetizky's other renowned pupils included Arthur Schnabel, Ossip Gabrilowitsch and Benno Moisiewitsch. After three years in Vienna, Hambourg began a world tour as a virtuoso, beginning in Australia. His travels took him far and wide to the United States, Poland, Russia and Germany. He later visited South Africa and Canada. Hambourg married the violinist Dorothea Muir Mackenzie in 1907, and was father of the pianist Michal Hambourg (1919-2004) with whom he often played duos. His popularity soon came to the attention of the Gramophone Company/His Master’s Voice and he cut his first records in 1909.

Jonathan Summers, the repertoire consultant of this production, gives his reasoning behind the selection of recordings which make up this set. Reading between the lines, Hambourg's recorded legacy is uneven. Summers points particularly to the 'standard repertoire' citing examples of Liszt's Liebesträume and Chopin’s G minor Ballade, where over-familiarity led to the pianist’s playing being 'impetuous and irascible, with much of the music being hurried over and rushed'. The final selection thus displays the finer elements of Hambourg's playing. The set includes both acoustic and electrical recordings.

Thickset and muscular, Hambourg was certainly no shrinking violet. The conductor Sir Landon Ronald observed that 'away from the piano he is always fortissimo'. His volcanic temperament was reflected in his playing - extrovert and in the ‘grand manner’.

For me, everything comes together in the wonderful Schubert/Liszt transcription 'Hark, Hark the Lark' from January 1929. Accomplished technical resources, flamboyance, florid, glistening ornamentation, clarity of melodic line against cascading roulades, and a wealth of tonal lustre all meet up in a captivating performance. Colouring of tone was of paramount importance, as with many pianists of that age. Take Handel's 'The Harmonious blacksmith' where the repeated first phrase of the air is played in a different hue, achieved by sensitivity of touch and careful use of pedal. Subtlety of nuance is exquisitely captured in Dvořák's Humoresque. We are treated to both acoustic (1916) and electrical (1928) versions. The latter I prefer for its improved sound quality. His Schumann playing caught my ear. Aufschwung has tremendous power and energy, reflecting his personality. Schlummerlied has some ardent phrasing, and Träumerei is notable for its poetic sensibility.

Hambourg was one of the first pianists to make gramophone records, and a pioneer in this respect. Some of his recordings of Debussy, Ravel and Rachmaninov were firsts. Of the outstanding ones, I would single out the acoustic La plus que lent by Debussy from 1920 for its tastefully applied rubato. The recording captures the myriad hues of the composer's La cathédrale engloutie. Not successful is Clair de lune. Rushed and pedestrian it's certainly not to my taste. The Gluck/Scambatti Melodie is lusciously phrased, and the tone he achieves is breathtaking. Anton Rubinstein's Étude in F major’s sparking cascades are ravishing.

Andrew Hallifax's transfers and audio restorations are particularly fine and emerge with notable freshness. The liner notes, provided by Jonathan Summers are detailed and informative, supplying biography and detailed discussion of the recordings. Pianophiles will discover many treasures in this valuable release.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [78.50]
1. SCARLATTI/TAUSIG Pastorale and Capriccio
2. BYRD Pavana ‘The Earle of Salisbury’
3. BULL The King’s Hunting Jigg
4. BLOW Fugue in C
5. BLOW Suite in A
6. ARNE Sonata No 5 in B flat
7. COUPERIN Le Carillon de Cythère
8. COUPERIN Les Baricades Mistérieuses;
9. SCARLATTI Sonata in G minor ‘The Cat’s Fugue’
10. SCARLATTI/TAUSIG Pastorale and Capriccio
11. BACH Italian Concerto (1st movement);
12. BACH/D’ALBERT Prelude and Fugue in D BWV532
14. HANDEL The harmonious blacksmith
15. SCARLATTI Sonata in A minor Kk54
16. SCARLATTI Sonata in G Kk146
17. BACH/TAUSIG Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV565
19. SCHUMANN Aufschwung;
20. SCHUMANN Schlummerlied
21. SCHUMANN Träumerei
22. SCHUMANN Romance in F sharp
23. SCHUMANN Novelette in F major
24. SCHUBERT/LISZT Hark, Hark the Lark
25. MENDELSSOHN/LISZT On Wings of Song
26. MENDELSSOHN/LISZT Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and Dance of the Elves

CD 2 [76.13]

1. DEBUSSY Danse
2. DEBUSSY La plus que lente
3. DEBUSSY/BORWICK Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
4. DEBUSSY La cathédrale engloutie
5. DEBUSSY Clair de lune
6. DEBUSSY Jardins sous la pluie
7. RAVEL Ondine
8. RAVEL Menuet antique
9. POULENC Novelette No 1 in C
10. DE SÉVERAC Où l’on entend une vieille boite-à-musique
11. POLDINI Étude de concert in A Op 19/2
12. RACHMANINOV Prelude in G flat Op 23/10
13. SCRIABIN Étude in C sharp Op 8/1
14. & 15. DVORÁK Humoresque in G flat (two versions)
16. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Dance of the Tumblers
17. BACH/SCOTT My heart ever faithful
18. GLUCK/SGAMBATI Melodie from ‘Orfeo’
19. SGAMBATI Vecchio minuetto
20. MOSZKOWSKI Étude de concert in G flat Op 24/1
21. WOLF-FERRARI Intermezzo No 2
22. D’ERLANGER Étude concertante No 2
23. GRAINGER Country Gardens
24. HAMBOURG Volkslied
25. RUBINSTEIN Étude in F Op 23/1



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