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Landmarks of Recorded Pianism – Volume 1
rec. 1921-1978
MARSTON 52073-2 [79:57 + 77:25]

In 1977 the Desmar label issued an LP, produced by International Piano Archives, titled "Landmarks of Recorded Pianism", its aim being to accommodate some of the 'orphan' recordings of great pianists that were superfluous to requirements. That LP was Volume 1, but a follow-up volume never materialized. Marston's project is cast along similar lines, with anticipation that subsequent volumes will follow.

Aficionado Mark Ainley's 30 year quest for unpublished recordings, test pressings and air checks by the Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti has finally paid off with these Scarlatti and Brahms items, deriving from privately held acetates. They were set down by the Swiss record label Audemars around 1945-46, a time when the pianist was performing this repertoire in recitals. The Scarlatti K. 450 is new to the pianist's discography, as are the two Brahms pieces (solo Brahms doesn't feature in his commercial discography, though there are a couple of Intermezzi archival recordings on YouTube). The qualities I admire in Lipatti's playing are present here and can be summed up in Ainley's assessment that his performances are “prized for their clarity, precision and good taste”.

Lipatti has acquired legendary status since his untimely death in 1950 at the age of only thirty-three from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His reputation is built mainly on a handful of commercial recordings, just over three hours in total, that he made for Columbia (EMI), supplemented by some live concerts and radio broadcasts. Walter Legge's admiration was summed up in his description "softness through strength". What we witness in the Scarlatti and Brahms is exquisite craftsmanship and refinement in the way the music is projected, underpinned by a fine intellect and compelling musicianship. The Scarlatti sonatas are rhythmically crisp, with well-defined textures marked by clarity. The Brahms is notable for its judicious pedalling, where harmonies are never muddied, and creative voicing. It was interesting to note that the Scarlatti's D minor Sonata, K. 9, which also exists in the commercial discography, although interpretively identical, sounds brighter and more vital in this private recording.

The fascinating torso of items relating to Vladimir Horowitz will especially ignite interest. The excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 hold further significance as they are the earliest extant thoughts of the pianist in this concerto. They derive from Bell Telephone Laboratory experiments that took place during two Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, which took place on Friday afternoon and Saturday evening. Given the date of 5-6 February 1932, the sound quality is exceptionally good. Horowitz delivers an electrifying performance, his commanding technique, wide-ranging colour and achievement of breathtaking sonorities are very much in evidence. Fritz Reiner is at the helm offering vital support and coaxing a wide dynamic range.

Two brief extracts provide some insight into the pianist's complex character. From May 1959, Horowitz complains about motor noise on the street during a recording session, an intrusion of which the producer Jack Pfeiffer is blissfully unaware. In addition, there’s a persistent fly buzzing around which further irritates. In May 1980, Horowitz agreed to a tryout recording session at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, a venue famed for its poor acoustic. After playing a few bars of Mendelssohn's Scherzo a Capriccio he complains that the acoustic cannot render his staccato crisp. After shouting uncomplimentary phrases, he abruptly cancels the session and walks out.

The Brazilian pianist Guiomar Novaes made a commercial recording of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9, K. 271 with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Hans Swarowsky for Vox around 1954. This live airing predates it by about four years and is dated 9 January 1950 and has remained unpublished until now. The conductor is Thomas Scherman, who directs the Little Orchestra Society. I love Novaes' Mozart playing for its elegance and refinement, and the instinctive way she eloquently shapes the phrases and contours the line. The finale has bite and fervour, with the contrasting cantabile middle section lyrically persuasive. Everything is informed by good taste. The audience seem very appreciative. Dated 1961-1962, the microphone eavesdrops on Novaes' final recording session for Vox Records. There's a great deal of shouting and arguing, with the atmosphere becoming heated. It turned out to be her last recording session for Vox.

The remainder of the contents are devoted to lesser known pianists, with the exception, of course, of Alfred Cortot. He's represented by a recently discovered test pressing, dated 1927, of the "Danse russe" from Stravinsky's Petrouchka. Despite a few slips along the way, this rhythmically potent interpretation ticks all the right boxes for me, in repertoire one usually doesn't normally associate him with. In short, it's a revelation, as is the Abram Chasins inclusion. Chasins was a very gifted individual, being a composer, scholar and writer. He had studied the piano with Josef Hofmann and was greatly admired by fellow students Jorge Bolet and Abbey Simon. Mendelssohn's Variations sérieuses, Op.54 originates from a test pressing the pianist made for HMV in 1931. I have to declare that it's one of the highlights of the set for me, being one of the finest versions of the piece I've ever heard. The performance surfs the full range of emotions from contained refinement to brooding tempestuousness. It makes one wonder why the pianist’s career, from 1927-1947, was so curtailed. A more substantial offering is made by the Ukrainian-born pianist Leff Pouishnoff. We are treated to a complete performance of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the LSO under Sir Adrian Boult. It's a live performance from the 1946 Proms, complete with announcements. The recording has been well-preserved, with the piano/orchestra nicely balanced in the overall mix. Another positive is that it’s not over indulged, but more emotionally contained than some performances I’ve heard, which seem blighted by a heart-on-sleeve approach.

The Siena Pianoforte, restored by Avner Carmi, is large upright piano, elaborately carved, whose provenance is surrounded by dubious legend. The background is discussed at length in the accompanying booklet, and I shan't go into it here. Several big names were enlisted to perform on it, and here we have Ivan Davis playing the Paganini/Liszt "La Campanella". Whether it's a problem with the piano, which has an unusual timbre due to its unconventional stringing, but much of the performance sounds heavy handed and wooden, and lacks subtlety. I was relieved to hear The Lark (Glinka/Balakirev), in a radiantly luminous reading by Stanley Hummel, as a welcome antidote afterwards - those diaphanous runs are breathtaking!

Gregor Benko's extensive documentation is first class and offers detailed background to the pianists and their recordings. Audio conservation is another triumph by Ward Marston and J. Richard Harris. With much to enjoy, this 2 CD set has been a revelation.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [79:57]
Dinu Lipatti
Sonata in D Minor, K. 9 (Scarlatti)[3:21]
Sonata in G, K. 14 (Scarlatti)[2:50]
Sonata in G Minor, K. 450 (Scarlatti)[3:21
Intermezzo in C, Op. 119, No. 3 (Brahms)[1:38
Capriccio in D Minor, Op. 116, No. 7 (Brahms)[2:15]
ca. 1945-1946; private recordings, unpublished
Josef Labor
Sonata No. 7 in D, Op. 10, No. 3 [continuation of second movement](Beethoven)[5:22]
ca. 1921; (Union 176/177) unpublished on LP or CD
Iso Ellinson
Mazurka in G-sharp Minor, Op. 33, No. 1 (Chopin)[1:18]
Etude in G-sharp Minor, Op. 25, No. 6 (Chopin)[2:08]
8 January 1932; (C-WR 231-2) German Columbia DW 3013-1X, unpublished on LP or CD
Moritz Rosenthal
Waltz in E Minor, Op. Posthumous (Chopin)[2:31]
30 June 1939, Chicago; (BS040234-1) RCA, unpublished
Ivan Davis
Grandes études de Paganini No. 3, “La Campanella” (Liszt)[5:02]
ca. 1960; Television broadcast recording performed on the Siena Pianoforte, unpublished on LP or CD
Stanley Hummel
The Lark (Glinka/Balakirev)[4:51]
ca. 1960, Albany, New York; private recording session, unpublished
Leff Pouishnoff
Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18 (Rachmaninoff)
Opening announcement[1:18]
I Moderato[9:47]
II Adagio sostenuto[10:33]
III Allegro scherzando[10:43]
with London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult
27 July 1946; unpublished
Alfred Cortot
“Danse russe” from Petrouchka (Stravinsky)[2:34]
6 December 1927; (Cc12109-1) Gramophone Company, unpublished
Ervin Nyiregyhazi
Mässig, No. 2 from Three Pieces, Op. 11 (Schönberg)[9:40]
20 March 1978, San Francisco; International Piano Archives, unpublished

CD 2 [77:25]
Abram Chasins
Variations sérieuses, Op. 54 (Mendelssohn)[10:50]
12 November 1931, London; (2B 2408-2, 2B 2409-2, 2B 2410-1) Gramophone Company, unpublished
Vladimir Horowitz
Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 [incomplete] (Tchaikovsky)
Allegro non troppo – Allegro con spirito [excerpt, bars 375–579][5:56]
Allegro non troppo – Allegro con spirito [excerpt, bars 605 to end of movement][1:50]
Andantino semplice – Prestissimo – Tempo One [excerpt, bars 1–57][3:33]
Andantino semplice – Prestissimo – Tempo One [excerpt, bars 96 to end of movement][3:06]
Allegro con fuoco [excerpt, bars 1–174][3:26]
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner
5-6 February 1932; (BTL 1955/56/68/70) The Bell Telephone Laboratory experimental recordings during two performances, unpublished
Sonata in D, Op. 10, No. 3, Third Movement [excerpt] (Beethoven)[1:47]
29 May 1959, Carnegie Hall; RCA Victor recording session, unpublished
Scherzo a Capriccio in F-sharp Minor (Mendelssohn)[0:48]
2 May 1980, Avery Fisher Hall, New York; unpublished
Parody of the promotional message for the RCA album “Showcase in Sound”[0:54]
ca. 1956, New York City
Guiomar Novaes
Concerto No. 9 in E-flat, K. 271 “Jeunehomme” (Mozart)
I Allegro[10:08]
II Andantino[11:34]
III Rondo, Presto[9:50]
with the Little Orchestra Society conducted by Thomas Scherman
9 January 1950; unpublished
Excerpt from Novaes’s final recording session for Vox Records [13:44]
ca. 1961-1962, New York; unpublished

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