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Ervin Nyiregyházi (piano)
Live - Volume 1: The Century Club of California 1972
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor, Op.5 [47:33]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Années de Pèlerinage, Troisième Année No. 2, "Aux Cyprès de la Villa D'Este, Thrénodie" (No. 1: Andante) [8:04]: No. 4, "Les Jeux D'eaux à la Villa D'Este" [7:11]
Années de Pèlerinage, Première Année, Suisse: No. 7, "Églogue" [3:28]
Mephisto-Walzer (Der Tanz In Der Dorfschenke): Episode Aus Lenau's Faust [10:41]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka in C-sharp Minor, Op. 6 No. 2 [4:42]
Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 28 No. 10 [0:47]
Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 63 No. 2 [2:38]
Mazurka in B Minor, Op. 33 No. 4 [6:21]
Johannes BRAHMS
Intermezzo In E-flat Minor, Op. 118 No. 6 [6:31]
Claude DEBUSSY (1868-1918)
Estampes: No. 1, "Pagodes" [5:00]
Années de Pèlerinage, Seconde Année, Supplément: Venezia E Napoli: No. 3, Tarantella Da Guillaume Louis Cottrau (Presto E Canzone Napolitana) [8:02]
Années de Pèlerinage, Première Année, Suisse: No. 2, "Au Lac de Wallenstadt" [3:45]
Zwei Konzertetüden: No. 1, "Waldesrauschen" [6:34]
rec. 17 December, 1972 at the Century Club of California, San Francisco
SONETTO CLASSICS SONCLA002 [47:33 + 73:44]

This release should be understood in the context of the second volume (see review) in Sonneto’s series, which has restored, with remasterings taken from master and early generation tapes, the late recordings of Ervin Nyiregyházi. In each case where there is competition between Sonneto’s transfer work and that of Music and Arts, in their Nyiregyházi release, a 2-CD album that covered live recordings made over the period 1972-82 (see review), Sonneto’s remastering proves superior. For biographical details of the pianist’s life – even by the rickety standards of pianists, his life story was gargantuanly bizarre (if only cellists were as interesting) – I’d refer you to those earlier reviews.

The first disc of this twofer is given over to a performance of Brahms’ Sonata No.3 that is improvisatory-recreationary in its aesthetic, symphonic in its conception, and catastrophic in its execution. Lasting 47 minutes – some, like Katchen, take 32, many players take 37, as did Etelka Freund, who knew Brahms, whilst even a slowcoach like Arrau took 39 - surely gives some indication of the cosmic psychodrama that develops under the Hungarian pianist’s fallible fingers. His erstwhile reputation as ‘the loudest pianist in the world’ can be gauged by the violence meted out, the draconian pummeling being so approximate as hardly to constitute a realistic interpretation of the score. Oases of refinement hint at the delicacy of which he was also capable, not least in the lied of the slow movement, and there is elsewhere something heroic, I suppose, about a man whose digital failings seem – on a sympathetic listening – to be a function of his cathartic battle played out on the keyboard. The unsympathetic would point out that after years of neglect and lack of practice he simply could no longer play. It might also be fair to say that they both may be true.

The Chopin pieces which I discussed in my Music and Arts review sound refreshed in these transfers, as does Liszt’s Aux Cyprès de la Villa D'Este which is also on M & A. He recalled that he made a private recordings of Jeux D'eaux à la Villa D'Este at the home of Gloria Swanson – there’s a picture of them together in the excellent booklet – but whilst this hasn’t survived, his 1972 Century Club performance has and it’s evidence of the religious spirit in which he approached much of Liszt’s music, and in which colour and texture were not the determining factors. The Mephisto Waltz was a favourite encore and he brings expressive vehemence and numerous approximations to bear in this fiery, overwhelming reading. As with his performance of the Sonata, his Brahms Intermezzo, Op.118/6 is a reading of such distension and exaggeration as sometimes to be barely recognizable. There is something nobly shot-through about Au Lac de Wallenstadt, a tattered but still defiant remnant of a technique now barely operating, and he takes Waldesrauschen so slowly one wonders if he’ll ever reach the end.

The reel-to-reel tapes of this concert were previously owned by Nyiregyházi himself. As before the notes - in English and Japanese – are by the pianist’s biographer Kevin Bazzana, and include previously unreleased photos by Yoshimasa Hatano and Akira Kinoshita. This album has been authorized by Mattheus Smits, president of the International Ervin Nyiregyházi Foundation. It is commendable that this performance should be heard in full in the best sound one could reasonably hope for. Everything is in mono except Chopin’s Mazurka in B minor and Brahms’ Intermezzo. The performances themselves operate on a timescale you won’t ever have encountered before – and may never wish to encounter again - but the intrepid pianophile should at least lend an ear.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank



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