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Fortunately for the reader – not to speak of the reviewer – I do not intend to discuss, analyse or describe every piece on this six-CD set. But first, what is included in this package? Danacord’s advertising flyer explains that the ‘first-ever complete LP collection’ of Ignaz Friedman’s recordings was originally released by them in 1985. This boxed set included six vinyl records. It presented all the recordings then collected by the American musicologist and Friedman biographer Allan Evans. Most were captured from Columbia’s electrical and acoustical recordings made between 1923 and 1936. The LPs also included unpublished recordings, alternative takes and a short example of the pianist talking. They were transferred to tape using the best technology then available.
This 1985 boxed set was a major achievement and ‘launched Danacord into the big league of internationally respected historical record labels.’ Unfortunately, it was released during the early rise of the CD and as a result it disappeared from the record catalogues. At this time, other companies were beginning to explore Friedman’s back catalogue, and several CDs were issued. These include a largely identical set from PEARL in 1990, also overseen by Allan Evans. And then there are the Naxos discs which include some additional pieces and alternative takes. I have not heard these alternative reissues. For the present repackaging, all the tracks have been remastered. I understand that the music has been presented in the track order as on the vinyl original set. i.e. CD 1=LP1 etc. Please note, I have not cross-checked this last fact, as I do not have full details of the LPs.
A few words about the artist may be helpful. The Polish pianist and composer Ignaz Friedman was born in the district of Podgórze near Kraków on 13 February 1882. In his early years he made several appearances as a child-prodigy. He later studied with several eminent teachers including Guido Adler and Theodor Leschetitzky in Vienna and Hugo Riemann in Leipzig. Beginning in 1904, Friedman had an impressive solo career touring the United States and Europe. It is claimed that he gave more than 2800 recitals across the world. Friedman lived in Berlin before relocating to Copenhagen at the outbreak of the First World War. After residence in Italy, he emigrated to Sydney, Australia, where he died on 26 January 1943. Although best recalled as a pianist, Friedman composed more than 100 works, mainly for piano, some cello pieces and songs as well as a piano quintet. He edited the 12-volume edition of Chopin published by Breitkopf and Hartel. Friedman made his first acoustic recordings for Columba in 1923.
Highlights in this six-CD set include a masterly performance of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, a selection of Chopin’s Mazurkas, which some critics regard as definitive, and several examples of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words. There is lots of Chopin: Études, Ballades and Preludes.
The only piece of chamber music featured here is Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Violin Sonata where Friedman partners Bronislaw Hubermann. There is a single piece by Mozart, the Rondo alla Turca and a short ‘Pastorale’ by Scarlatti. And finally, there are some bits of salon music by largely forgotten composers such as Eduard Gaertner and Franz Mittler.
One major work in this collection is the Grieg Piano Concerto. It is accompanied by a scratch orchestra. Although Friedman’s playing is ‘OK’, the ‘band’ leave much to be desired. But I guess it is having this concerto available that is the point, not the overall quality of the production. It wouldn’t be my go-to recording of this potboiler.
For listeners in 2020, Ignaz Friedman represents a colourful personality, who despite the sheer brilliance of his playing, sometime seems to impose his individuality on the music rather than allow the composers to have their say. But any perceived faults become largely unimportant. True, he could play like a man possessed, as the listener will hear in Chopin’s great ‘Revolutionary’ Study, but he could match this with an almost ‘angelic’ performance in Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata.
I was disappointed by the physical plastic packaging of this set. My case disintegrated! And I have struggled to work out how to put it together again! The liner notes in this boxed set do not give any description or analysis of this repertoire. Composition dates of these pieces have not been included. This is entirely understandable, as it would have been dissertation-length. Besides, many of the pieces are popular and the listener will have many sources to provide further information. Much of this will be available on the Internet after a quick ‘Google.’ On the other hand, there are several pieces in this collection of which it will be difficult to gain more details: for example, the ‘salon’ pieces by Gaertner and Mittler on CD 6.
I was amazed by the quality of the restored sound on this collection. Claus Byrith has done a magnificent job in making the transfers of these elderly recordings. To be sure there is still some surface noise, swish and clicks, but lose them and much of the remaining performance disappears with it. The sound balance here is perfect and leads to immense enjoyment with this often-magically performed repertoire. John France