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Brailowsky - The Complete Polydor Recordings
Volume 1: Chopin
Alexander Brailowsky (piano)
PRISTINE AUDIO PAKM078 [2 CDs: 135:52]

Volume 2: Liszt
Alexander Brailowsky (piano)
rec. 1928-36
PRISTINE AUDIO PAKM079 [2 CDs: 118:44]

Alexander Brailowsky: The Berlin Recordings 1928-1934
Alexander Brailowsky (piano)
DANACORD DACOCD336-339 [4 CDs: 267:48]

Rather amazingly Brailowsky’s Berlin recordings of 1928-34 have suddenly appeared from two sources. Pristine Audio was first off the mark with its two twofers; now Danacord issues a 4CD box. The running order is very similar, Danacord reprising Pristine’s composer-led programming and not attempting a chronological approach. When it comes to the Chopin sequence, for example, both productions start with the Concerto, continue with the Second Sonata, follow with the Barcarolle Op.60 and Ballade No.1 and thence to the Mazurka and so on. That Danacord replicates Pristine’s approach so closely is something of a coincidence, to put it mildly. However, I don’t want to labour this point because I am going to rule out Danacord’s transfer work. It is badly over filtered, and dull, and only Mark Obert-Thorn has done justice to the excellent-sounding Polydor originals, notwithstanding inherent pitch fluctuation, which has, in any case, been well dealt with.

Brailowsky is best remembered by his post-war discs, of which the Chopin RCAs have been recently reissued in an 8-CD Sony Classical box. Where the repertoire is duplicated the sonic honours invariably go to the newer traversals but interpretatively, and in terms of vitality, it is very often the 78s that contain more invention and fire. That said, Brailowsky was an extremely uneven practitioner and circumstances seem seldom to have allowed him to give of his very best in the studio. There is a strong argument, however, for favouring those London recordings he made – which included Chopin’s Third Sonata – as some of his most consistent and convincing performances on record and these were transferred a number of years ago by APR.

In Berlin he recorded two concertos. Chopin’s First was making its première appearance on disc, courtesy of the Berlin Philharmonic and Julius Prüwer and Liszt’s was entrusted to the same ensemble and conductor. The Chopin is stylistically and expressively more committed than his post-war remake which sounds rather tepid alongside it. The Liszt is rather effortful in places though pianistically pliable; Brailowsky’s command of filigree is not in doubt, nor his flair for drama. Prüwer is competent at best.

His Chopin B flat minor sonata impresses in places but he could be an erratic exponent of the repertoire. He can come adrift technically as he does in places in the E flat major Nocturne and in the Waltz in A flat major, where he can be quite free as well. The Etudes he essays are also inconsistent, but they are, at their best, sensitive and dynamic. He was a well-regarded Lisztian and the examples here include three riotous Hungarian Rhapsodies. But the best of his Liszt is hyphenated, the Wagner-Liszt Tannhäuser overture, which he occasionally strips back for ease of execution but vests with considerable power. It’s not as memorable or overwhelming a performance as Moiseiwitch’s 78 recording of 1938 but is consistently involving. Elsewhere he has a tendency to thump the Schubert-Tausig Marche Militaire into submission, but his Scarlatti-Tausig is miraculously better and shows his vivid sense of coloration and limpidity. There are two valuable Debussy examples and his Russian heritage is noted by virtue of two Scriabin pieces.

Even at his best in the Berlin sessions Brailowsky was never the most reliable of practitioners, which is disappointing as his touch can be delicacy itself. The Polydors sound excellent in Pristine’s transfers, full of depth, and capture, often, the beauty of Brailowsky’s tone. If you acquire them in physical form just watch out for Pristine’s Mission Impossible jewel cases, which have a tendency to self-destruct (due to flimsiness) after 15 seconds.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review (Danacord): Stephen Greenbank

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No. 1 E minor, Op. 11
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Julius Prüwer
Sonata No. 2 B flat minor, Op. 35
Barcarolle F sharp minor, Op. 60
Ballade No. 1 G minor, Op. 23
Mazurka B flat Major, Op. 7,1
Nocturne E flat major, Op. 9,2
Prélude B minor, Op. 28,6 & G Major, Op. 28,3
Prélude D flat major, Op. 28,15
Walz A flat Major, Op. 34,10
Walz C sharp minor, Op. 64,2
Walz A flat Major, Op. 69,1
Walz E minor, Op. posth.
Impromptu A flat Major, Op. 29
Fantaisie-Impromptu C sharp minor, Op. 66 4:47
E Major, Op. 10,3
C sharp minor, Op. 10,4
G flat Major, Op. 10,5
A flat Major, Op. 25,1
F minor, Op. 25,2
F Major, Op. 25,3
G flat Major, Op. 25,9
A minor, Op. 25,11
C minor, Op. 25,12
Polonaise A flat major, Op. 53

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No. 1 E flat Major (1849)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Julius Prüwer
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 C sharp minor
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 D flat Major
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 C sharp minor
Valse impromptu (1842/52)
Gnomenreigen (Etude de concert No. 2)
Liebestraum No. 3 A flat Major
Richard Wagner/Liszt:
Tannhäuser Overture
Spinnerlied (from Fliegende Holländer)
Franz Schubert/Liszt:
Schubert/Th. Leschetizky:
Moment Musicale, Op. 94,3
Schubert/Karl Tausig:
Marche Militaire, Op. 51
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Spinnerlied C Major, Op. 67,4
Scherzo, Op. 16,2
Robert Schumann (1810 -1856)
Traumeswirren, Op. 12,7
Intermezzo from Faschingsschwank, Op. 26
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Rondo - perpetuum mobile, Op. 24,4
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Serenade For The Doll from Children's Corner
Toccata from Pour le Piano
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)
Prelude C sharp minor, Op. 11,10
Etude D sharp minor, Op. 8,12
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
Danse Rituelle from El amor brujo
Alexander Brailowsky (piano)

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