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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906 [5:05]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No.31 in A flat major Op.110 (1822) [18:56]
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Impromptu No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 29 (1837) [4:34]
Etudes, Op. 10; No.12 ‘Revolutionary’ (1829-32) [3:07]
Etudes, Op. 25 (1832-36): No.2 [1:43]: No.9 ‘Butterfly’ [1:05]
Bolero, Op.19 (1833) [8:51]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnaval Op. 9 (1834) [25:30]
Jascha Spivakovsky (piano)
rec. 1948-1966
Volume 4

Volume four in this series of retrievals from the non-commercial discography of Jascha Spivakovsky again focuses on central repertoire in home and broadcast performances made over a near two-decade span. He lived for the second half of his life in Australia and gave numerous broadcast recitals. He seems also to have had a forward-looking approach to recording his own performances, fortunately for posterity.

Bach’s Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906 was the earliest of these pieces to have been recorded, in 1948. There’s a real sense of romanticist fervor in the reading and the playing is full of rich colour and expressive rubati: a strong, powerful performance. It’s followed by another in the unfolding sequence of Beethoven sonatas essayed by Spivakovsky, in this case Op.110. This was taped approximately four years after the Bach. It’s playing of considerable personality but as so often with Spivakovsky’s Beethoven I am left alternately impressed and perplexed by his playing. The sense of massive contrast and impatient phrasing that are constant companions throughout the reading sometimes generate a real sense of fury. Even so there remains something almost frivolous about some of his phrasing though, fortunately, he reserves his best playing for the finale - where he proves expressive in the Arioso section, and strongly directional in the Fuga.

A Chopin sequence follows. The Impromptu No.1 comes from a c.1955 broadcast and is a largely effective performance. There are three Etudes played in 1963 at home on his own Steinway which accounts for the rather distanced acoustic, which sounds rather hard, and was presumably a touch boxy. It’s not always an easy listen in terms of clarity. The Bolero is from 1966 and is much the best of his Chopin in this disc – technically and expressively.

In 1954 he was taped in broadcast playing Carnaval in which he includes Sphinxes. Note writer Mark Ainley terms this a ‘towering performance’, adding a battery of superlatives into the bargain. It is certainly a keenly negotiated reading, fluent, crisp – the Préambule sets the tone in terms of legerdemain – and not without phrasal idiosyncrasies. Chopin is very sensitively shaped, though, and he really digs into the virtuoso narrative of Paganini.

I’ve found all the sequence of Spivakovsky releases uneven interpretatively and in terms of recorded sound, but they are seldom less than thought-provoking and that is assuredly the case here.

Jonathan Woolf

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