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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 Orchestra/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 penultimate release of this series contains concerto performances of works that have appeared elsewhere in the collection. A complete Mozart K.488 from circa 1953 can be heard on Volume 5 and a 1961 performance of the Beethoven is on Volume 7. Completing the disc is the earliest solo recording Spivakovsky made; a test pressing set down at the Parlophone studios in 1927 and rejected by the pianist.

The April 1952 Standard Hour broadcast consists of just the 2nd and 3rd movements of the Mozart Concerto (it was normal practice at the time to play just one or two movements from a Concerto in these broadcasts). This is the only recording of the partnership of Spivakovsky and Pierre Monteux that has been discovered and what a delight it is. The glorious tone colour and legato that is evident in the previous Spivakovsky release that I heard is just as present here in the andante and he is fleet and supple in the finale. The orchestra provides excellent support and, though the ensemble very nearly comes unstuck itself in the opening tutti of the finale, Monteux thankfully keeps firm hands on the reins.

The sound quality of the Beethoven Concerto is not quite as good as the Mozart and the piano is quite forward in the mix but it is perfectly acceptable and more than sufficient to allow Spivakovsky's radiant, rounded tone to shine through. His virtuosity is brilliant and there is none of the wayward (perhaps I should say individual?) rubato that has bothered me in some of his other performances. A wonderfully communicative performance with sunny playing from the pianist and strong support from the British orchestra under Robinson's accomplished guidance.

The two short works that end this disc are unique amongst the recordings in Pristine's 11 CD collection of Spivakovsky's performances in that they were recorded commercially. The pianist had recorded at the Parlophone studios in Berlin accompanying his brother Tossy and on one of those visits, on November 19th 1927, he made a single test disc. This remained unpublished; Spivakovsky was unimpressed with the tonal range that was demonstrated and you can almost hear him trying to transcend the limits of the medium in the middle section of the Liszt. The Chopin is a beautiful rendition, with some of the rubato we have grown accustomed to in Spivakovsky's playing but it is not excessive here or in the Liszt (and certainly not compared Mark Hambourg, Leopold Godowsky or Raoul Koczalski, among several who recorded this work around the same time). His singing tone is remarkable even heard through the relatively heavy surface and his depth of tone and the glorious richness in the central section is a joy to hear. The Liszt is equally impressive. When I first heard this I thought that both of the cadenza passages were just an approximate scramble; when I listened with headphones I realised that they are played well, just very fast and mostly too quiet to properly register with the inadequate recording techniques of the time. Spivakosvky must have been heartily disappointed to lose so much detail and sound quality in his playing and it is understandable, though regrettable, that he chose to shy away from the whole recording process. It is such a shame therefore that he could not hear the amazing results that Andrew Rose has achieved. The surface noise is a little louder in the Chopin than the Liszt but neither are too obtrusive and it is wonderful to hear these valuable documents.

It is lucky for us that all these wonderful performances survived and have been made available; this CD is a fortuitous late addition to the series. The playing is full of character, personality, presence and depth and I am eagerly awaiting the next instalment with its promise of Concertos by Bach and (finally) Ernest Bloch.

Rob Challinor

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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