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Jascha Spivakovsky (piano)
Bach to Bloch - Volume 10
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488 (mvts 2 and 3 only) (1786) [15:06]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op.58 (1806-8) [33:37]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1809-1847)
Nocturne in F sharp major, Op.15 No.2 [3:49]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Liebesträume No.3 [4:10]
San Francisco Symphony Orchestras/Pierre Monteux (Mozart)
BBC Northern Orchestra/Stanford Robinson (Beethoven)
rec. 1927, Berlin (Chopin, Liszt), 1952 San Francisco, NBC Standard Hour (Mozart), 1956, BBC radio (Beethoven)

The tenth volume of this series devoted to pianist Jascha Spivakovsky - the less-remembered brother of the more famous Tossy – revisits major concerto repertoire already covered in previous volumes. The fifth volume (see review) included a complete performance of Mozart’s Concerto No.23, whereas this latest disc incudes all that was performed on April 1952, the second and third movements. Equally, you’ll find Beethoven’s G major Concerto in volume 7 (see review) in the form of a 1961 Melbourne performance.

Whether such a surfeit of performances of standard repertoire in duplicated recordings makes the heart beat faster I can’t really judge. But one can note that radio introductions to both performances have been retained as has the BBC outro to the G minor. The Mozart concerto was recorded for NBC’s Standard Hour and it’s missing the opening movement. Such practice was fairly typical and some soloists only got to perform a single movement from a concerto, given the time restrictions involved. Pierre Monteux conducts the San Francisco Symphony; perhaps he and the Standard Hour team recalled a similar first movement excision when William Kapell had joined orchestra and conductor for K414 in April 1950, almost exactly two years before Spivakovsky, a performance of which can be heard on Music and Arts.

The sound is especially fine and preserves a notably sensitive performance, with deft left-hand voicings, warmly textured by the pianist and limpidly phrased throughout the course of the slow movement. As Mark Ainley suggests in his notes Monteux is rather personalised in his marshalling of the tuttis but the solo playing is full of brio.

Though it was recorded four years later the sound for the Beethoven is not as good as the Standard Hour broadcast and one can hear that quite a lot of tape hiss has had to be dampened. Additionally the piano is backwardly balanced and sounds a little ill-defined, even watery. Nevertheless the rapport between Spivakovsky and the dependable Stanford Robison is intact; the highlights of the performance are the well-taken cadenza, an unostentatious slow movement and a dramatically conceived finale.

The disc ends with an important find; a test pressing of Spivakovsky’s only solo studio recording, which was never published as the pianist found fault with the record’s limited tonal range. It’s well-known that he accompanied Tossy on disc in Berlin at around the same time, but only the violinist’s name was printed on the labels, so this popular brace – a Chopin full of characteristic rubato and dramatic accelerandos and a quite passionate Liszt - is of more than archival interest. Clearly it meant a great deal to Spivakovsky as he took the disc with him when he left Europe for Australia and preserved it. Not all musicians at that time were as concerned with their recorded legacy.

Despite the inherently problematic nature of this release – the unavoidable torso of the Mozart, the poorly balanced Beethoven - there’s enough here to warrant interest for the piano collector.

Jonathan Woolf

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