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Albert Ferber (piano)
Decca Recordings 1945-51
Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Fantasia in C major, Hob.XVII:4 [4:45]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Minuet in D major, KV 355 [2:54]
Gigue in G major, KV 574 [1:24]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major, Op. 81a ‘Les Adieux’ [14:46]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Impromptu in F minor, D.935 (Op. 142) No. 1 [7:51]
Piano Sonata in A major, D. 664 (Op. 120) [14:45]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809–1847)
Songs without Words
Book I No. 1 in E major, Op. 19 No. 1 ‘Sweet Remembrance’ [3:42]
Book VIII No. 3 in C major, Op. 102 No. 3 ‘Children’s Piece’ [0:59]
Book VIII No. 4 in G minor, Op. 102 No. 4 ‘The Sighing Wind’ [2:16]
Book V No. 3 in E minor, Op. 62 No. 3 ‘Funeral March’ [3:25]
Book II No. 6 in F sharp minor, Op. 30 No. 6 ‘Venetian Gondola Song’ [2:08]
Book VI No. 4 in C major, Op. 67 No. 4 ‘Spinning Song’ [1:51]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Kinderszenen, Op. 15 [15:20]
rec. 1945-51, Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London
ELOQUENCE 482 9390 [76:45]

Swiss born Albert Ferber (1911-1987) began his recording career with Decca just after the end of the War and went on to record for an array of labels. In the 1950s he set down a Complete Debussy project for Ducretet-Thomson, and then went on with Saga, RRE, AMORC and eventually, rather more prominently than these last two specialist outfits, Hyperion and Meridian. I first heard him on a Fauré disc on Saga but have always wanted to track him back to the source, namely his 1945-1951 Deccas and here Eloquence steps forward to fill the gaps.

Ferber had been a pupil of Franz-Joseph Hirt, a fine player, but more obviously of Karl Leimer and Walter Gieseking. He performed often for Rachmaninov and was admired for his lieder accompaniments in the 1939 Lucerne Festival before moving to London as the outbreak of war approached. After hostilities he toured widely although his American debut came late, in the 1960s.

It’s clear that Ferber was a gifted performer – a musician of probity, a certain natural restraint, but with stylistic conviction in all he plays in this selection. The first three items come from previously unpublished sides. Haydn’s Fantasia in C major is full of joyous verve (a couple of slight fluffs, perhaps, included), whilst the two little Mozart pieces are pleasurable if slight. Ferber was joining a competitive piano stable at Decca with players such as Kathleen Long, Curzon, Lympany, Joyce, Smeterlin, Mewton-Wood, Franz Osborn, Orloff and Monique Haas on the company books – with Lamond having finished recording for them and Kempff and Katchen soon to start. Even in this competitive environment his Les Adieux sonata recording of July 1946 doesn’t get submerged. Voicings and articulation are fine and there is sufficient colour. There’s nothing expressively heart-on-sleeve but he remains precise in the fierier passages.

He had by then already recorded a Schubert brace: the Impromptu in F minor and the little Sonata in A major and both are finely scaled and show a real affinity between performer and repertoire. The Sonata is especially sympathetic in Ferber’s hands, his customary refined-not-effusive musicianship very much on show. Technically, the Sonata sounds rather shallower than the Impromptu and for some reason it was kept back from release for over two years, only appearing in October 1948.

There’s a gap of several years until the selection from Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, recorded in May 1951. He probes the ‘Funeral March’, from Book V, which is probably the best interpreted of the selection of six. At the same session he also recorded Kinderszenen. Though he starts a touch bluntly with insinuating rubati, he remains for the most part steady and insightful. Characteristically he doesn’t go all Horowitz over Träumerei and in fact gets better and better as the work develops. The final two movements are extremely well done, and he is in some ways more revealing in Der Dichter spricht than Curzon, though not as moving as Carl Friedberg.

With polished and finely constructed notes from Jonathan Summers and great restoration work from Mark Obert-Thorn, this is a fitting restoration of Ferber’s ‘Early Years’ on disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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