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Elly Ney (piano)
The complete Brunswick and Electrola solo 78rpm recordings
rec. 1922-38
APR 7311 [3 CDs: 232 mins]

APR has several marques at the moment, one of the most exciting of which is its French Pianists series. But it has also been revisiting its back catalogue to recycle single discs into handy sets. In the case of Elly Ney, the majority of the first two discs were issued back in 2000 on BD82045 and others in 1995 on LHW033. Now the result is an expanded 3-CD box.

The revisited concerto disc includes an interpolator, Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, played with skittish intent in February 1938. Mozart’s Concerto in B flat major is accompanied by an unnamed orchestra and directed by her ex-husband Willem van Hoogstraten. The band is inclined to salon effusiveness but there is real and expected rapport between soloist and conductor and Ney plays with an appealing lightness. Beethoven’s Second Concerto is accompanied without obvious distinction by Fritz Zaun and the Landesorchester, Berlin. There is also the first electric recording of Strauss’ Burleske in a hell-for-leather traversal with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra and Hoogstraten. The second disc is given over to the composer with whom Ney is most closely associated, Beethoven, in the form of the Op.7 Sonata, the Andante favori, Adagio cantabile (only, and infuriatingly) from the Pathétique Sonata and Op.111, recordings made in 1936-37, by which time Frederic Lamond’s sonata recordings had spluttered and guttered but Kempff’s 78s were ongoing and Schnabel’s cycle was in full spate. She was later to record a huge swathe of her repertoire for the Colosseum label (review) by which time her playing was largely confined to Germany after her wartime genuflection to Hitler. She plays Op.7 with greater gravity, but faster, than in her LP remake in 1962 and the Rondo finale has far more of a sense of grazioso lift than in her rather dour later counterpart. She only recorded the Andante favori once and this 1938 recording works well. The Nel cor più non mi sento variations was a favourite of hers; buoyant, quite witty – for her; wit was not her birth right – and generally excellent. Op.111 is again faster than in her 1968 recording but it possesses a cumulative force that allows one easily to absorb a few tiny slips, such is its sense of power. She needed two sessions, a year apart, to finally get to grips with the sonata.

The third disc introduces much that is new to her CD discography. The Schubert Impromptu in F minor is heard in a fine sounding 1934 Electrola and the performance is just as good. The reverse of this 78 was the Moment musical in C sharp minor which is the noisier side – and perhaps it was the more often played. Her Schumann is represented by Kinderszenen. Rubati are very personal, lavish in places, and there is some striking characterisation (Wichtige Begebenheit in particular) and striking animation, such as in the powerful bass of Ritter von Steckenpferd. It’s a slightly restless performance but a most interesting, even revealing one. Her Brahms Intermezzo is very sensitively shaped. When she returned to it in 1962, she slightly elongated things but I prefer this 1934 reading. The same composer’s Romance in F major relies on tonal subtlety rather than expressive extroversion, whilst the Waltz is playful. These Brahms sides, and others, show her in a fine light. The remainder of the last disc is given over to a sequence of little-known and seldom if ever reissued acoustically-recorded Brunswick recordings. Almost all were made in February 1922 but there is a single coupling from October 1924. These are valuable additions to her discography, exclusively favourite encore pieces of hers. That said they are stylistically inconsistent. The contrary motion octaves in Chopin’s Etude in E major are about as military as they come and her Nocturne in F sharp major adds a new definition to the word prosaic (clearly Chopin was not the composer for her). Still, the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8 is spirited and she finishes with some novel repertoire – the waltz by her great predecessor Teresa Carreño and the first ever recording of Debussy’s Feux d’artifice, surprisingly good, and heard in really fine sound (perhaps because of the rarity of the repertoire this copy was seldom played?).

Jonathan Summers has written his typically accomplished booklet notes and the various transfer duties, from diverse sources, are first class. There are some appealing black and white photographs in the booklet including one of Cortot kissing Ney’s hand (best perhaps not to comment on these two politically disreputable characters, in the circumstances).

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 (80:42)
Electrola recordings 1934-1938
1-3. MOZART Piano Concerto No 15 in B flat major K450, UNNAMED ORCHESTRA / WILLEM VAN HOOGSTRATEN
4. MOZART Rondo in A minor K511
5-7. BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat major Op 19, LANDESORCHESTER, BERLIN / FRITZ ZAUN

CD 2 (75:30)
Electrola recordings 1936-1938
1-4. Sonata No 4 in E flat major Op 7
5. Andante favori in F major WoO57; 6. Sonata No 8 in C minor Op 13 2nd movement
7. Six Variations on ‘Nel cor più non mi sento’ WoO70
8-9. Sonata No 32 in C minor Op 111

CD 3 (76:07)
Electrola recordings 1934-1938
1. SCHUBERT Impromptu in F minor D935/4; 2. Moment musical in C sharp minor D780/4
3-15. SCHUMANN Kinderszenen Op 15
16. BRAHMS Intermezzo in E flat Op 117/1; 17. Romance in F Op 118/5
18. Rhapsody in E flat Op 119/4
19. Intermezzo in A flat Op 76/3; 20. Waltz in A flat Op 39/15
Brunswick recordings 1922–1924
21. BEETHOVEN/D’ALBERT Ecossaises WoO83;
22. SCHUBERT Moment musical in F minor D780/3
23. MENDELSSOHN Song without words ‘Spinning song’ Op 67/4
24. CHOPIN Étude in E Op 10/3; 25. Nocturne in F sharp Op 15/2
26. LISZT Hungarian Rhapsody No 8 S244/8
27. SCHUBERT/LISZT ‘Hark, Hark! The Lark’ Ständchen von Shakespeare, S558/9
28. SCHUBERT/LISZT Valse-caprice No 7 in A, Soirées de Vienne, S427/7
29. BRAHMS Hungarian Dance No 2 in D minor WoO1
30. TERESA CARREÑO Kleiner Walzer
31. DEBUSSY Feux d’artifice Préludes Book II No 12

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