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Ervin Nyiregyházi (piano)
Live Volume 2: Forest Hill Clubhouse 1973 and Last Recordings 1984
rec. May 24, 1973 at the Forest Hill Clubhouse, San Francisco, California, (Disc 1);
October 1984 at Ricardo Hernandez’s house, San Francisco, California (Disc 2)
SONETTO CLASSICS SONCLA005 [72:44 + 39:02]

It’s a blessing that Sonetto Classics managed to acquire Ervin Nyiregyházi’s personal archive in 2016, originally bequeathed to the Takasaki Art Centre College (TACC), later to become Sozo Gakuen University in Japan, after his death in 1987. The latter folded in 2013 and, due to financial difficulties, creditors seized its assets including the archive. A release featuring a recital ‘The Century Club of California 1972’ has already been issued as Volume 1, which I’ve recently reviewed. This second volume contains a later recital from the Forest Hill Clubhouse 1973. In addition, the archive was fortunate enough to receive a cassette of the pianist’s last preserved recording taped in the San Francisco home of Ricardo Hernandez in 1984. This has also been included in this 2 CD set.

Information found in the accompanying booklet notes on the Hungarian-American pianist and composer Ervin Nyiregyházi is gleaned from Kevin Bazzana’s biography of the pianist ‘Lost Genius: The Story of a Forgotten Musical Maverick’. He was born in Budapest in 1903 and, with both parents musical, began piano lessons aged five. His prodigious gifts were recognized early on by psychologist Géza Révész, who observed him from the age of six to twelve and later published a book about him ‘The Psychology of a Musical Prodigy’. Like Menuhin, his earning potential as a gifted wunderkind led to him being exploited by his parents, and this parental domination and control may have sown the seeds of his later determination to assert his individuality and go his own way. It’s worth mentioning that he could claim a distinguished pedigree, as his teachers included Ernő Dohnányi and Frederic Lamond.

After making an initial impact on the concert stage in the 1920s, including a Carnegie Hall debut, he descended into relative obscurity. It seems his career was mismanaged, and this was compounded by stage fright and the struggles he encountered in coping with professional and domestic life. For a time he was destitute and slept rough. He was voracious sexually and married ten times. In the 1970s he made something of a comeback, and between 1972 and 1984 he set down several studio recordings and performed some private concerts.

The Forest Hill Clubhouse has an intimate ambience and the audience, judging by the applause, isn’t that big, indicating a fairly snug setting. As in the Century Club of California Recital of Volume 1, Liszt forms a large portion of the pianist’s programme. The composer provided Nyiregyházi with a vehicle for creative freedom and individuality. At the time Liszt was unfashionable, a sentiment I’ve heard Alfred Brendel articulate. The pieces chosen for this recital are not your virtuosic showpieces, but rather are imbued with a more spiritual dimension and “brooding power”. Nyiregyházi launches proceedings with Sunt lacrymae rerum: En mode hongrois and La lugubre gondola, second version. Both are dark, sombre works which benefit from the pianist’s probing intensity. The other Liszt work is Marche funèbre: En mémoire de Maximilien I, Empereur du Mexique, No. 6 of Années de pèlerinage, troisième année. Once again, the playing is barnstorming and larger than life, yet Nyiregyházi can tease out the moments of radiant lyricism and sculpt them with poetic fervour.

Brahms’ last piano work, the Rhapsody in E flat major, Op.119/4 is also given a performance writ large. Arpeggiated chords, cataclysmic fortissimos and grand drama all provide an edge-of-the-seat experience, with a few notes dropped along the way. Debussy’s Estampes: No. 1, Pagodes grants some much needed balm. Diaphanous sonorities and kaleidoscopic colour enrapture the listener. La plus que lente: Valse is pulled around a little too much for my liking, with overdone rubato. In fact, it seems to be given a complete makeover. The sentimental Tchaikovsky Valse is a charming delight, nicely contoured and painted with some captivating hues.

In Scriabin’s two-movement Fourth Piano Sonata Nyiregyházi keeps a tight rein on the fragmentary motivic units, fusing them into a coherent whole. I don’t think I’ve heard the ending of the Sonata as overwhelming as this. The composer’s Poème tragique Op.34 is similarly cast.

The last preserved recital was taped in front of an audience of only one at the San Francisco home of Ricardo Hernandez in 1984. A warning – the piano is badly out of tune. Owing to the cassette recorder being switched on late, Liszt’s Aux cyprès de la Villa d’Este: Thrénodie (II) only starts at bar 28. He then plays a work by the composer completely new to me: Christus: Part 1, “Weihnachts-Oratorium”/No. 4, “Hirtengesang an der Krippe (Song of the Shepherds at the Manger). This 23 minute score sounds improvisatory in character and provides an opportunity for the pianist to give free rein to his imagination.

The reel -to-reel tape of the Forest Hill Clubhouse recital, digitally transferred at 24 bits at Abbey Road Studios, London has scrubbed up well and sounds perfectly reasonable for its age, considering it had been consigned to a deserted room for fifty years with no air conditioning. Bazzana’s biography sounds fascinating and I’ve already ordered my copy. The set contains a book of interesting photographs in black and white from the pianist’s second visit to Japan in 1982. He’s added his own sardonic remarks to each photo. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that there’ll be more tantalizing goodies from the archive to come.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

CD 1 Forest Hill Clubhouse, San Francisco, 1973 (remastered from the original tape)
Liszt: “Sunt lacrymae rerum: En mode hongrois”
Liszt: La lugubre gondola (Dritter Elegie), second version
Brahms: Clavierstücke, Op. 119: No. 4, Rhapsody in E-flat Major
Debussy : Estampes: No. 1, “Pagodes”
Debussy : La plus que lente: Valse
Liszt : Années de pèlerinage, troisième année: No. 6, “Marche funèbre: En mémoire de Maximilien I, Empereur du Mexique"
Tchaikovsky : Valse in A-flat Major , Op. 40: No. 8
Scriabin : Piano Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp Major, Op. 30, I, Andante.
Scriabin : Piano Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp Major, Op. 30, II, Prestissimo volando.
Grieg : Lyrische Stücke, Vol. 5, Op. 54: No. 4, “Notturno” in C Major.
Scriabin: Poème tragique in B-flat Major, Op. 34
CD 2 Private recordings, San Francisco, 1984 (remastered from the original tape)
Liszt : Années de pèlerinage, troisième année: No. 3, “Aux cyprès de la Villa d’Este: Thrénodie (II).”
Liszt : Christus: Part 1, “Weihnachts-Oratorium”/No. 4, “Hirtengesang an der Krippe.”



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